Elway To Marino Doc of the Week

Elway To Marino

The 1983 NFL Draft is the stuff of legend. Beset by a host of problems, the league was at its lowest ebb. But all that changed in a single, remarkable day which saw six quarterbacks traded, three of whom would later be inducted into the Hall of Fame, as a new generation of stars took the NFL by storm. This is the story of that fateful day. BT Sport 2, Wed, Oct 25th 15.00

April 26th 1983 was a watershed day for the NFL. It was the day of ‘The Draft’. The previous season had been blighted by discontent. There was a players’ strike, the newly-formed USFL was aggressively poaching its biggest stars and the iconic Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis had just successfully sued the league over its failure to sanction a proposed relocation from San Francisco to Los Angeles. But things were about to change for the better.

Elway to Marino explores the events of April 26th 1983 through a series of interviews with the players, head coaches, general managers, team owners and agents who were there. Former agent Marvin Demoff, who represented both John Elway and Dan Marino, is one of the stars of the piece. He kept a diary in the months leading up to the momentous day is even interviewed in a recreation of the function room in the Sheraton Hotel, New York, complete with flowery wallpaper and copious cigarette butts in the ashtrays, that was the original setting for these events.

The 1983 NFL Draft not only changed things on the field of play, it also had an unforeseen impact on matters off it as the draft itself, with all the drama and subterfuge that it involved, became compulsive viewing for football fans from then on as they waited to see who their team would pick and who they would trade. It was pure theatre and the perfect curtain-raiser to the new season.


Much of the attention in Elway to Marino is naturally given to Elway’s refusal to play for the Baltimore Colts who selected him as their initial pick. In a tense stand-off that saw several other teams make a play for the player who was seen as the ultimate star-in-waiting at the time, Elway was eventually traded to the Denver Broncos. Marino, meanwhile, who would go on to become one of the greatest players ever to grace the NFL, joined the Miami Dolphins as 26th pick. The other Hall of Fame quarterback, Jim Kelly, joined the Buffalo Bills.

But 1983 was a landmark year for more than just quarterbacks as four of the other picks, namely running back Eric Dickerson, offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, cornerback Darrell Green and defensive end Richard Dent, also achieved the game’s highest honour. It truly was a vintage year.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the draft process is the infinite number of ways it can play out. There are 32 different teams with 32 different requirements and philosophies. Each team needs players to fill specific positions, with no two having identical requirements. While it’s hard to say if a running back is a better pick than a defensive lineman, the general wisdom is that a quarterback trumps both. But that is not all, as each team must reassess their requirements and often their entire strategy with each name that disappears from the board. Needless to say, it can be a tense business.

Not so rational

Another quite remarkable revelation is that, despite owning and running these billion-dollar enterprises, those in charge don’t always make the most rational decisions in the heat of the battle that is draft day. Big calls are often made on the slightest of whims. Indeed, we hear from a Dallas Cowboys representative who explains how he put together a fair trade for Elway designed to appeal to Colts coach Frank Kush. It included Cowboys quarterback Danny White who had previously played for Kush at Arizona State. However, he naively failed to realise that Kush could be overruled at any moment by Colts owner Robert Irsay. Furthermore, we learn that Elway was eventually traded to the Broncos simply because Irsay happened to be good friends with Denver owner Edgar Kaiser. It was a fateful decision.

Speaking about the film, director Ken Rodgers, himself an avid football fan, reveals the joy and the depth of understanding of those momentous events that making the piece gave him. “No one loved NFL history more than NFL Films President Steve Sabol,” he explained. “Early in my career, I remember him telling me ‘Never think history is boring. The further you get from historic events, the more dramatic details are lost. For a filmmaker, that's a blessing.’ As usual, he was 100% right.

“No one wants to tell the same old story - and that was my early concern while researching the 1983 NFL Draft. Six quarterbacks were taken in the first round, Elway was picked by the Colts and traded to the Broncos, Marino fell to the Dolphins at No. 27, etc. ..... I figured I knew it all, or at least most of it. Boy, was I wrong!”

Images: Getty

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