On This Date in Sports September 11, 1983: Elway Comes to Baltimore
In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The fans at Memorial Stadium let John Elway have it as boos rain down upon the Denver Broncos' rookie quarterback. Elway was drafted first overall by the Baltimore Colts but refused to sign, leading to a trade after the NFL Draft. Playing in his second game, John Elway struggles, leading to his benching by coach Dan Reeves. Steve DeBerg takes over and leads the Broncos to a 17-10 win in Baltimore's.
The 1982 season was a nightmare for the Baltimore Colts, as they failed to win a game in the strike-shortened season, posting a record of 0-8-1 for coach Frank Kush. The Colts had posted a 2-14 record in 1981 and drafted quarterback Art Schlichter from Ohio State with the number four pick. However, Schlichter was suspended for gambling activities for the 1983 season, leaving Baltimore with a need for a quarterback. The Colts had the top pick in 1983 and chose John Elway out of Stanford. Elway told the Colts before the draft that he would not play in Baltimore and would instead play baseball if the Colts drafted him.
The Colts ignored the warnings and drafted John Elway in a quarterback-heavy draft that saw six selected in the first round. This included three future Hall of Famers. The Colts thought they were in a position of power, but Elway began to prepare for a baseball career, playing in a Single A affiliate of the New York Yankees in Oneonta, New York. Publically, Elway said he did not want to play in the cold weather in the Northeast. The truth was the Colts were a dysfunctional franchise under the guidance of owner Robert Irsay. In addition, Frank Kush was a rival of Elway's father, Jack Elway, a fellow coach.
With the Colts backed into a corner, they were forced to trade John Elway after the draft. The Colts sent Elway to the Denver Broncos on May 2nd, receiving offensive lineman Chris Hinton, backup quarterback Mark Herrmann, and a first-round pick in the 1984 Draft, which turned into offensive lineman Ron Solt. Hinton would have a solid career with the Colts, but the failure to land a quarterback led Mike Pagel to be the starter in 1983.
The Colts started the season with a 29-23 win over the New England Patriots in Foxboro. The Colts had beaten the Patriots twice in 1981, serving as their only wins since1980. In John Elway's debut, the Denver Broncos beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 14-10, as Steve DeBerg came on to lead the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
Fans in Baltimore circled the date as fans looked to release a summer's worth of scorn on John Elway. The crowd was hostile, and the game was ugly, as the game was knotted 3-3 as the fourth quarter began. Elway struggled again as the Colts took the lead on a 41-yard fumble return by Larry Anderson. Not wanting his rookie quarterback to suffer longer, coach Dan Reeves pulled Elway in the fourth quarter following the fumble. Steve DeBerg trying to show he was still a reliable quarterback, tied the game with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Steve Wilson. He then led a game-winning drive that culminated with a two-yard sneak to give Denver a 17-10 win and a 2-0 start.
The Denver Broncos would post a 9-7 record and an appearance in the AFC Wild Card Game. This included a 21-19 win over the Colts in Week 15 at Mile High Stadium. The Colts, meanwhile, finished 7-9 in their final season in Baltimore, as Robert Irsay decided to move the Colts to Indianapolis in 1984. John Elway would lead Denver to five Super Bowl appearances and two Lombardi Trophies before retiring following a victory in Super Bowl XXXIII in 1999. The Colts, meanwhile, struggled much of the next 16 years. John Elway would not play a second game in Baltimore, as the Ravens' arrival in 1996 came at the tail end of his career.