Thirty years ago, the draft in 1983 changed the NFL. The class featured seven hall of famers, led by first overall pick John Elway. The Stanford quarterback was one of a record six quarterbacks to be taken in the first round that year.
The story of Elway and Dan Marino, the final quarterback taken in the first round, is the focus of Elway to Marino. Airing at 8 p.m. on ESPN, it's the latest gem in the network's 30 for 30 series of documentaries. Directed by Ken Rodgers of NFL Films, the documentary's central figure is agent Marvin Demoff. That year, he represented both Elway and Marino.
Demoff kept a diary of the events leading up to the 1983 draft. In the documentary, he shares for the first time the different visits and interactions his clients had with teams. It reveals how close different teams came to drafting two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.
Elway was that year's Andrew Luck. He was so unquestionably the No. 1 pick in the draft. But the Stanford product refused to play for the Baltimore Colts, owners of the first overall pick. His fallback was to play right field for the New York Yankees. How good was Elway at baseball? The team's owner, George Steinbrenner, compared Elway to Mickey Mantle.
Marino came into his senior season at Pittsburgh as the top-rated quarterback in the nation, but had a disappointing final year. Questions also arose about Marino possibly abusing drugs. Because of those concerns, Marino saw five quarterbacks get drafted in front of him in the first round.
At the time, a young Ernie Accorsi was the general manager of the Colts. He knew Elway didn't want to play for Baltimore and head coach Frank Kush. Leading up to the draft, there were plenty of suitors for the No. 1 pick. But Acorsi required a top five pick in return so he could draft Marino.
At one point, the San Francisco 49ers floated a Joe Montana trade before Bill Walsh backed off. The Oakland Raiders tried to pull off a three-team trade that would have sent Howie Long to the Chicago Bears and draft picks to Baltimore.
Veteran quarterback Danny White was part of a deal put together by the Dallas Cowboys to get Elway. White played for Kush at Arizona State.
Hall of Fame guard John Hannah was floated in a deal involving the New England Patriots. The San Diego Chargers feigned interest in trading up to get Elway only to convince star quarterback Dan Fouts to re-sign.
As several teams offered top-line players for Elway, Marino was everyone's fall back. Accorsi wanted him in Baltimore when he traded Elway. The Buffalo Bills were picking between Marino and Jim Kelly – who didn't even want to play in Buffalo.
Despite taking place 30 years ago, Elway to Marino showcases the cunning needed to run a draft. Denver Broncos head coach Dan Reeves wanted Elway. He knew Colts head coach Frank Kush liked Northwestern guard Chris Hinton. So with the fourth pick in the draft, the Broncos took Hinton and eventually moved him to get Elway. More so than ever before, the curtain of NFL dealings is peeled back for everyone to see.
In the end, Accorsi was steadfast on drafting Elway, even if that meant the quarterback sitting out a season. The GM didn't want to take a weak offer that came up during the draft.
"I knew what the '84 draft was going to produce," Accorsi said. "A Boomer Esiason was picked in the second round. He played like a No. 1, but at the time he wasn't a first-round pick. So what do you think I'd be able to get between the end of the '83 season and the '84 draft? Everyone would try to get (Elway)."
When Colts owner Robert Irsay rushed trading Elway for Hinton, a backup quarterback and a first-round pick in 1984, Accorsi quit. He went on to stack the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants with talent for several years.
The 1983 NFL Draft is arguably the most revered in league history. Elway to Marino is a nice reminder of it.