Indianapolis Colts: Biggest Draft Day Regret In Franchise History
John Elway shook the core of the NFL Draft system.
The consensus top pick in the 1983 NFL Draft was assured a fortune, but he stood his ground when the one thing he asked not to happen took place when then Commissioner Pete Rozelle made his announcement.
WITH THE FIRST PICK IN THE 1983 NFL DRAFT, THE BALTIMORE COLTS SELECT JOHN ELWAY, QUARTERBACK OF STANFORD.
It wasn’t a surprise the blond kid with the cannon arm and the quick feet was taken first overall – just that the Colts were the ones to make the call and the choice that changed football forever in the state of Maryland.
Elway played his entire 16-year professional career with the Denver Broncos. At the time of his retirement in early 1999, Elway recorded the most victories by a starting quarterback and statistically was the second most prolific passer in NFL history. He led his teams to six AFC Championship Games and five Super Bowls, winning his last two.
Elway set several career records for passing attempts and completions while at Stanford and also received All-American honors. He was the first selection in the 1983 NFL Draft, famously known as the quarterback class of 1983, where he was taken by the Baltimore Colts before being traded to the Denver Broncos. In January 1987, Elway embarked on one of the most notable performances in sports and in NFL history, helping engineer a 98-yard, game-tying touchdown drive in the AFC Championship Game against the Cleveland Browns.
The moment is known in National Football League lore as "The Drive." Following that game in Cleveland, Elway and the Broncos lost in Super Bowl XXI to the New York Giants. It was the first of a record five Super Bowl starts at quarterback for Elway, a record that he solely held until 2012, when Tom Brady earned his fifth Super Bowl start.
After two more Super Bowl losses, the Broncos entered a period of decline; however, that ended during the 1997 season, as Elway and Denver won their first Super Bowl title by defeating the Green Bay Packers 31–24 in Super Bowl XXXII. The Broncos repeated as champions the following season in Super Bowl XXXIII by defeating the Atlanta Falcons 34–19. Elway was voted MVP of that Super Bowl, which would be the last game of his career.
Elway was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004 in his first year of eligibility. The statistics and the fame and immortality are great, but they were never done while wearing a Colts uniform. Elway wouldn’t have it and he forced the Colts’ hand after making one of the biggest NFL Draft blunders in history.
Elway was wary of playing for the Colts, then among the worst teams in the league, and his father advised him against playing for head coach Frank Kush, who had a reputation as a harsh taskmaster. While Elway preferred football his agent Marvin Demoff later stated that baseball was "a true option" for him at the time. More importantly, the possibility gave Elway leverage in negotiations with the Colts.
After unsuccessfully attempting to negotiate a private agreement with the Colts in which Elway would cite his alleged desire to remain on the West coast to explain the team trading him, Elway publicly threatened to join the Yankees full-time if the Colts did not trade him; Demoff wrote in his journal, published three decades later, that "he would be a garbage collector before he'd play for Baltimore." Elway's refusal to join the Colts was controversial— Terry Bradshaw denounced him, stating "you should play baseball ... he's not the kind of guy you win championships with"—but many other NFL teams began negotiations with the Colts for the quarterback.
The Colts' general manager Ernie Accorsi wanted Elway as, Accorsi later said (in the documentary), he did not foresee the 1984 Draft as producing any first-round quarterbacks, and announced Elway as the team's choice as soon as possible during the 15-minute window on draft day, surprising observers. Elway that day reiterated his wish to not play for the Colts at a press conference, saying "As I stand here right now, I'm playing baseball". (When a reporter pointed out that the Yankees were not based on the West coast, Elway replied "They play baseball during the summertime".)
The Colts, however, were interested in offensive lineman Chris Hinton, who the Denver Broncos had chosen as the fourth pick in the first round. On 2 May Colts owner Robert Irsay and Accorsi agreed to trade Elway for Hinton, backup quarterback Mark Herrmann, and a first-round pick in 1984.
The Colts did recover, drafting Peyton Manning in the 1998 NFL Draft, some 15 years later. The Colts could have also traded down in the Draft in 1983, selecting Dan Marino or even Jim Kelly. But the team had its sights set on No. 7, which created the biggest NFL Draft controversy of all time.