Thirty years removed from one of the most influential drafts of all time, ESPN's 30 for 30 film crew takes a look at the 1983 selection show from a special viewpoint—that of John Elway and Dan Marino's agent, Marvin Demoff.
It's critical to understanding why Tuesday night's special, Elway to Marino, was so important to both of these Hall of Fame quarterbacks and how the 1983 draft changed football forever.
In 1983, the NFL was at a crucial juncture.
Feeling pressure from the USFL and the sting of the 1982 player strike and struggling to compete with the other major professional sporting leagues, the NFL wasn't the guaranteed league for players anymore. Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times noted as much before Tuesday night's broadcast.
The Washington Redskins were fresh off their Super Bowl XVII win, but it was the Baltimore Colts that had the first pick in the draft and the right to draft the best player in the draft that year—Stanford QB John Elway.
Only one problem remained with that selection—Elway had no interest in joining up with the Colts.
In a move that foreshadowed Eli Manning's refusal to join the San Diego Chargers over 20 years later, Elway refused to play for the Colts in the upper Northeast, citing the climate and poor management as reasons why he didn't want to play for the team—a decision that drew the ire of Pittsburgh Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw.
As captured perfectly by director Ken Rodgers and the entire ESPN film crew, Elway's decision shaped the entire draft.
Sifting through the notes and sentences that made up Demoff's diary of both of his star clients, nearly every team that had a first-round pick in 1983 had conversations with both Demoff and Baltimore about landing the star Stanford QB.
At the other end of the spectrum, Marino plummeted down the draft board. 0
Passed over for Todd Blackledge (Penn State), Jim Kelly (Miami, FL), Tony Eason (Illinois) and Ken O'Brien (UC-Davis), Marino fell all the way to the Miami Dolphins at No. 27, and the rest is history.
As the special moved forward, the prevailing theme of the evening became very clear—the draft is a "what-if" game for nearly every team involved, even more so during the 1983 affair because of the top QB talent.
Can you imagine John Elway in a Dallas Cowboys uniform? How about Dan Marino as a hometown Pittsburgh Steeler, or Darrell Green with any other team than the Redskins? Or maybe seeing Jim Kelly stay in the USFL, which was a distinct possibility after he flat-out hated the idea of going to Buffalo (as noted by 30 for 30 on Twitter):
ESPN Films 30 for 30 @30for30
I don't want to play for the @Vikings. I don't want to play for the @packers & I SURE don't want to play for the @buffalobills. – Jim Kelly4/24/2013, 12:47:59 AM
After watching Marino to Elway, it's understood that all of those possibilites and more existed when Pete Rozelle hit the podium to announce each pick that year.
After three hours and 14 minutes had passed, the entire complexion of the NFL had changed. It's a tradition that has kept the NFL afloat each year, in large part because so many possibilites exist within (the now) 32 picks in the first round.
The 1983 first round produced six Hall of Famers. It also featured six QBs, still a record not likely to be broken on Thursday night when the 2013 NFL draft kicks off. Oh, and in a forgotten note, Hall of Famer and NFL all-time rushing leader Eric Dickerson went No. 2 overall—right behind Elway.
In keeping with the theme of "30," there couldn't have been a better time to release this film about Elway, Marino, the QBs in between, the number of teams that wanted that No. 1 pick and the subsequent history that followed.
At the very least, Elway to Marino puts some major pressure on the 2013 NFL draft to measure up to its predecessors.