The Deal of the Century and How John Elway became a Bronco

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John Elway

This is a re-post of an article I wrote 2 years ago. The Bye Week provided an opportunity for a Broncos History lesson. KK

 

Most Bronco fans know that the 1983 NFL Draft brought the city of Denver it’s most notable sports figure and arguably the Greatest Quarterback to ever lace up a pair of cleats. They also probably know about the players involved, but they may not know some of the details that took place. I recently read about the story from a book called The GM, by Tom Callahan and I thought I would relate a part of the Elway tale that isn’t widely known. The book is primarily about Ernie Accorsi, a well-known football man who was the General Manager for the Colts,Cleveland Browns and the New York Giants. Accorsi was responsible for pulling the strings and acquiring Bernie Kosar for the Browns in the NFL’s Supplemental Draft in 1985, but that is another story. Suffice it to say, Ernie Accorsi was a wheeler-dealer and he was smack dab in the middle of the Elway story.

To set the stage, I must introduce the characters of this play. In 1983, the Colts were still in Baltimore and they were coming off of a terrible 0-8-1 strike shortened season. They hadn’t been to the playoffs since losing the divisional playoffs to the Oakland Raiders in 1977 and their last good quarterback, Bert Jones, was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1981 despite a strong 3,094-yard season. In 1982, Colts owner Robert Irsay fired Head Coach Mike McCormick and replaced him with Frank Kush. Irsay promoted Ernie Accorsi from assistant to General Manager in 1983. Ernie inherited  Kush, who was known to flat out abuse his players in College. Some of his practices at Arizona State could amount to a Boot Camp in the desert. Around College coaching circles, Frank was not well loved. In Fact, John’s dad Jack Elway was at the forefront of the group of folks who didn’t like Kush.

Accorsi scouted John at the East-West game and after watching John throw a laser strike across the field 70 yards, decided there and then Elway was going to be the Colts draft pick.

We all know what happened next. Elway told the Colts he wouldn’t play for them and if push came to shove, he would pursue a career in baseball with the New York Yankees. Now being an athlete, John was a fair ball player as a Shortstop and Pitcher at Stanford. In the 1981 MLB Draft, he was selected by the New York Yankees in the 2nd round. The following year, he played outfield in 42 games for the Oneonta Yankees of the Class A New York – Penn League. He had a .318 batting average, with four home runs, 13 stolen bases, and a team-high 25 RBI. The thing was, he couldn’t hit a curve and George Steinbrenner wasn’t going to dish out a million dollar contract on a whim. They don’t throw the curve-ball in Class A and Accorsi had the scouting report that claimed John wouldn’t be able to hit Triple A pitching.

So the actual story is that it was a bluff. John wasn’t going to play baseball, but it was Jack that had the beef with Kush. A father holds an influence over his son and there was no room for the Elways and Frank Kush in the same organization. Ernie Accorsi drafted John anyway. As a side note, Ernie was very good friends with Johnny Unitas as they were both Pennsylvania boys. Well Johnny thought the Colts should pick Dan Marino out of Pitt University, but Ernie had his mind made up.

Anyway, the story goes, Ernie got back to his office and there was Irsay trying to make a trade with the Patriots to salvage the situation. Accorsi told his boss that if he pulled the trigger on that trade he would have to find another GM.

Later on that night, Ernie got a phone call from an apologetic Elway. John explained that he really wanted to play football and to just wait til all the hullabaloo dissipated and they would talk. That was when Accorsi made his mistake. He told Irsay about the phone call. John really wanted to play on the West Coast, but Irsay feared losing the draft pick altogether. He wasn’t in the mood to play nice after being jilted and declined to trade Elway to the likes of San Diego, Seattle or the Los Angeles Raiders. The next thing you know, Elway is coming to Denver for reserve QB Mark Herrmann, the rights to Offensive Lineman Chris Hinton, who was the Broncos 1st pick (4th overall) and the Broncos 1st-round pick in the 1984 NFL Draft (19th overall). That pick turned out to be Guard Ron Solt. The Denver Broncos promptly signed him to a 6-year contract worth $12.7 million. Raiders owner Al Davis claimed a league conspiracy had prevented him from trading for the Elway pick. The “Drive,” 5 Super Bowl appearances, a pair of Championship Rings, numerous other records and accolades…and the rest is history.

The 1983 season went on for the Baltimore Colts. Despite losing out on Elway, and QB Art Schlichter’s 1-year suspension for gambling, the Colts managed a laudable 7-9 record. But little did anyone know, that on December 18th 1983, the Colts had played their final game in Baltimore and would elope to Indianapolis on a midnight run.

So what became of the other half of the deal?

Mark Herrmann played sparingly for two seasons for the Colts before backing up Dan Fouts in San Diego for 3 years before finishing his career with the Los Angeles Rams. Chris Hinton had a 13 year career in the NFL, mainly with the Indianapolis Colts. A 7-time Pro Bowler (6 with the Colts, 1 with the Falcons), Chris appeared in 177 games, starting 68. Ron Solt played 116 games, starting 27 for the Colts and the Philadelphia Eagles. He was selected to the 1987 Pro Bowl, but other than that, he is known as the player to be named later in the Deal of the Century.

“This ones for John”

Go Broncos!

– Kaptain Kirk

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