Six quarterbacks were selected within the span of 28 picks during the 1st round of the 1983 draft, and the course of NFL history was changed in the process.
Even the most fair-weather football fan has some knowledge of the famed quarterback class of ’83. But not many know just how many story-lines took place or how close everything came to being very different. The fate of several teams shifted wildly based on only a handful of picks in the draft. Luckily for fans of the Denver Broncos, history always smiles kindly on the victors.
Elway to Marino is the latest ESPN 30 for 30 documentary and it will air on Tuesday, April 23 at 6 p.m. MT. The story goes in depth on the ’83 draft and follows the handwritten diary of Marvin Demoff, the man who represented both John Elway and Dan Marino at the time.
Elway came into the draft as the consensus #1 overall pick despite his sub-.500 record at Stanford. The team that held the first pick was the Baltimore Colts, but the Elway’s made it known that John had no interest in playing for head coach Frank Kush. Baltimore faced a tough decision: Draft Elway and possibly see him play baseball for the New York Yankees, or trade the pick and lose out on one of the best quarterback prospects the league had ever seen.
Any team who wanted to trade for the top pick was facing a hard bargain. Colts GM Ernie Accorsi was looking for three 1st round and two 2nd round picks. Even the most desperate teams found it hard to part with that many assets, but there were those that tried.
Surprisingly it was the San Diego Chargers who may have been in the best position to trade for the top pick. They held three picks in the 1st round so they had the assets to satisfy Baltimore’s trade demands. But they also had future Hall of Fame QB Dan Fouts who had recently led them to two AFC Championship Games. In the end they elected to re-sign Fouts and go another direction during the draft.
It turned out to be Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders who nearly got a deal done. The Raiders put together a trade with the Bears that included Howie Long in order to acquire additional draft picks. They in turn were going to send several picks to the Colts in a deal for Elway. But this chain of events never got started.
Davis just so happened to be in the middle of a contentious legal battle with the NFL in 1983. If it wasn’t for his poor relationship with the league that trade may have gone through and Elway might have become a legend for the Raiders. Instead the deal was mysteriously killed, and some suspect that NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle was behind it.
In a twist of fate, Davis’ legal battle took so much of his time that he wasn’t very focused on the draft that year. Had he been, the Raiders not only might have traded for Elway, but they may have ended up with Dan Marino since he fell to the Raiders at the end of the first round. They obviously chose to pass on Marino, and the Miami Dolphins were very happy that they did.
Despite the constant trade discussions and the chance Elway would flee for MLB, the Colts ended up drafting Elway anyways.
The “Elway Bowl” was officially on.
Bill Walsh considered trading Joe Montana in order to bring in Elway. Tom Landry was ready to do the same with Danny White. And the Patriots were willing to deal future Hall of Famer John Hannah. But for one reason or another these trade talks never got serious.
It turned out to be Broncos Owner Edgar Kaiser who was able to bend the ear of Colts owner Robert Irsay. All it took was a trip to Vegas for the friends to hash out a deal for Elway. Irsay agreed to a trade that returned the Broncos 1st round pick in 1984, offensive lineman Chris Hinton (the 4th overall pick in the ’83 draft), and QB Mark Herrmann.
It was a steal. The Broncos were a dark horse in the truest sense and ended up getting Elway for a fraction of what Accorsi was demanding.
The rest is history. Elway went on to play in five Super Bowls, winning in his final two seasons, and he retired as the all-time wins leader for an NFL quarterback.
Marino fell all the way to the Dolphins at pick #27 and was the sixth quarterback taken in the first round.
The Chiefs drafted Todd Blackledge with the 7th pick, the Bills took Hall of Famer Jim Kelly with the 14th pick, the Patriots went with Tony Eason at #15, and the Jets took Ken O’Brien at #24.
Of the five quarterbacks taken before Marino only Elway would end up with a more impressive resume. The fact it was the Broncos who wound up with the valedictorian of the QB class of 1983 is hard to believe, especially considering all the twists and turns in the saga prior to the Denver trade.
Elway to Marino breathes life back into the greatest moment in Colorado sports history, and Bronco fans everywhere will love every second.