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Dan Levy

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Can it be Elway?


Certainly there have been terrible draft choices in NFL history. The first, and most prominent offensive player that comes to mind is Ryan Leaf. While Peyton Manning is supplanting his legacy as one of the best signal callers in the history of the game, Leaf is... well... taking some time to figure life out.

So sure, it seems that the second-overall pick can be defined as a major bust. So, too, can a pick like Maurice Clarett who is now more known for blogging from a prison than anything he did on the professional football field.

But forget about the player who was drafted and didn't pan out. No matter how much skill is involved in the scouting process, busts happen. Who knows how a player will react when handed millions of dollars? Who knows how he'll deal with the pressures of being a professional out on his own? And who knows how he'll react when he's off the juice?

It's hard to predict that a guy who, for all sound logic, should be a surefire star in the NFL but ends up a bust. But what about the guy who looked like a Hall of Famer, ended up being a Hall of Famer, but you traded the guy away because he wouldn't play for you?

Ah, Baltimore.

John Elway said he wouldn't sign for Baltimore before the Draft. Elway used the leverage of a baseball career to try and scare the Colts away from drafting him. But draft him they did. And according to this archived column from The Sporting News on September 10, 1984 (thank you Mr. Internet):

It was called the Trade of the Century in May of 1983, when the Broncos obtained Elway from the Colts for (Chris) Hinton, (Mark) Herrmann and a first-round pick in the '84 draft. Bob Irsay's pockets got picked, they said. The Broncos got Elway for far less than what other teams had offered the Colts before the '83 draft.

Ten months later -- and 25 years ago yesterday -- the Colts weren't from Baltimore any longer. Sure, Hinton, who was drafted fourth overall by Denver in the same draft as Elway, went on to be a seven-time Pro Bowler. But only one of those years was in Baltimore as the team was gone for the next five honors he'd earn as a Colt.

Mark Herrmann was a quarterback in the league for 10 years and threw 561 passes. He started 12 games, winning three.

The first-round pick the Colts got ended up being Ron Solt from Maryland (the Colts second pick in the first round that season. Solt played for 10 years in the league, including six with the Indianapolis Colts, and since the rights to his pick were traded in the Elway deal, he never played a down of his career in the city of Baltimore.

But none of the success had by Colts players in the trade really matters. The fact is, John Elway said he wouldn't play in Baltimore and they drafted him anyway. They could have traded the pick for more before the draft. They could have selected another player in that draft class. Eric Dickerson went second. Bruce Matthews went ninth. If they really needed a quarterback they could have traded down as Jim Kelly went 14th and Dan Marino went 27th. Washington legend Darrell Green went 28th. All Hall of Famers, by the way.

In fact, Elway went on to be one of the five greatest quarterbacks (perhaps players) in the history of the sport. The Colts? Be them in Baltimore or Indianapolis, they never won more than nine games in a season during Elway's career (1983-1998). The Colts record during that span was 98-157 (.384).

So don't fret on this anniversary, Baltimore. The Colts became someone else's problem for a long time. And John Elway might just be the worst draft pick in NFL history.

By Dan Levy  |  March 30, 2009; 2:26 PM ET  | Category:  Dan Levy , Draft Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Elway? Give me a break. Maybe if cities drafted teams and not franchises. Colts ended up with Manning who they wouldn't have had if Elway had signed. The worst ever? Bo Jackson, No. 1 with Tampa Bay. He signed with Royals, went baseball, reentered the draft the next year and went to Raiders in the 7th round. Bucs got nothing. Nothing near a several year pro bowler like Chris Hinton.

Posted by: Exscribe | March 31, 2009 7:12 PM

I absolutely despise John Elway.I feel that Terry Bradshaw got it right when describing him

Posted by: CalvinSuddeath | April 1, 2009 12:41 AM

You're funny, calvinsuddeath . . . let's compare:

John Elway is estimated to have a net worth in excess of $100 million, and could have anything he wants in Colorado. He's a very intelligent Stanford graduate with a keen mind for business.

Terry Bradshaw is rumored to be near bankruptcy. He played his college ball at a school called Louisiana Tech, suffers from clinical depression (which he self-medicated with alcohol before finally seeing a psychiatrist) and will most likely be on anti-depressants for the rest of his life.

Life is a lot longer than a football career, calvinsuddeath. Those who need the adulation that comes with their on-field exploits are seldom prepared for the realities of a post-athletic life.

If my son wanted to seek out one of these two men for personal mentoring, which one do you think I'd rather he speak with?

Posted by: TaoJones | April 1, 2009 3:49 AM

"Peyton Manning is SUPPLANTING his legacy"? Presumably you mean "cementing," or one of several other verbs that aren't "supplanting"? Can I be a Post reporter? I have read several books.

Posted by: stumpff | April 1, 2009 7:32 AM

"John Elway ... could have anything he wants in Colorado." So how much could that be worth?

Posted by: johnhouse | April 1, 2009 7:41 AM

Elway one of five greatest qb's? Please give us a break.

Sure Elway was a stat hound and piled up a lot of comeback wins. He played in the AFC which was weak at the time.

But how bout them superbowls? Before TD Elway couldn't even cheat his way to a win. Remember the "Three Amigos" and the embarrassing egg laid during the SF game? If he was one of the 5 greatest he should have done something other then throw INTs. the game wasn't even close.

By the time TD arrives Elway is a broken old man who spent most of the time handing the ball off to TD. Denver gets those SB wins because of TD's legs and not Elways arm.

Posted by: krankyman | April 1, 2009 8:30 AM

uh, april fools?

Posted by: jaebersole | April 1, 2009 9:25 AM

Obviously most of the readers missed the context of the article. The Elway draft was deservingly considered the worst not because of anything Elway did or didn’t do. It was considered the worst because of the moronic and arrogant behavior of the Baltimore Colts staff and ownership. He very could have been a bust but it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that he said long before the draft took place 'if you draft me Baltimore I will not play for you', 'if you draft me Baltimore I will not play for you', 'if you draft me Baltimore I will not play for you'........and the idiots still drafted him. They deserve what they got for being that stupid!!! Like or dislike the fact that a college player took control of his future and deceived no one about his intent or non-intent if certain events occur, the bottom line is this…..those events still occurred and therefore showed the idiocy of the whole Irsay ownership.

Posted by: blahblahblahblah1 | April 1, 2009 9:45 AM

Don't forget, Elway was viewed as a disappointment for many years before he got a decent offensive line. Likely the Colts would have ended up trading him anyway after a few years.

When he was at the top, there was nobody better, ever. But he was only there for 2-4 years out of a long career.

Robert in Denver

Posted by: roberthurst | April 1, 2009 9:54 AM

Actually, the pick by Colt GM Ernie Accorsi was fine. He knew of Elway's complaints and intended to wait him out. Accorsi has always said that he was as shocked as any fan to hear of the trade to Denver. Irsay had panicked and made the trade without discussing it with his football people.

Posted by: howie14 | April 1, 2009 10:08 AM

John Elway and the word "worst" do not even belong in the same sentence...EVER. What a clown whoever wrote this article.

Posted by: devilsadvoc8 | April 1, 2009 10:44 AM

1. Elway a 'stat hound'? Please....

2. Elway at the top of his game for only "2-4 years"? Please....

3. Elway was probably the single most talented QB prospect ever in NFL draft history. The reason Baltimore drafted him was because it was obvious from Elway's college performance, his passing skill, and his demonstrated leadership intangibles that he was going to be an H-O-F-er.

Posted by: tracker2 | April 1, 2009 10:59 AM

It wasn't a bad pick, it was a bad trade. There was a similar scenario a few years ago when Eli Manning told the Chargers not to draft him. San Diego just made a much better trade than Baltimore did.

Posted by: spidey103 | April 1, 2009 11:10 AM


Grade school let out early today? Lets work on reading comprehension or at least Reading the whole friendly article.

The Author is doing two things: He's making a valid observation about the PICK. He's not saying that Elway was a bust. Let me repeat, he is not saying that Elway was a bust.

Secondly he's making a splash by saying something you wouldn't expect to hear to get you to read the article.

To elaborate on the first point (if you're still reading): 1st: Elway ended up being an HoF QB with 2 rings. Bal'mer had nothing as the Colts, the Colts even left Bal'mer after that season.

2nd: Elway said he wouldn't play for them...even said he'd rather play baseball than play for them. They picked him anyway which isn't too bad since they knew they could trade him.

3rd: They didn't get half as much as they could have in the trade.

Combine points 1 and 3, add a sprinkle of 2 and boil for the 30 seconds it would have taken an adult to read this post and you have a compelling argument.

Posted by: remain | April 1, 2009 11:20 AM

"Terry Bradshaw. . .suffers from clinical depression (which he self-medicated with alcohol before finally seeing a psychiatrist) and will most likely be on anti-depressants for the rest of his life."
Exactly what are you saying here, taojones? People who suffer with clinical depression are losers? 'Cuz that's what it sounds like. It took courage to seek treatment, and staying on his meds for the rest of his life is a very good thing! Clinical depression isn't just being bummed that you're no longer playing (or whatever transient thing is happening in your life), it's a medical condition resulting from a chemical imbalance in the brain. I don't have an opinion one way or the other about either Mr. Elway or Mr. Bradshaw, but your inclusion of a diagnosis of clinical depression as a reason for not recommending Mr. Bradshaw as a mentor smacks of ignorance and prejudice. There are many successful, talented people with clinical depression (many of whom self medicated before they knew what the problem was) who would have very good lessons to teach about how to deal with adversity among many other things. Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes comes to mind as one example of a famous, successful person who has been very outspoken about his battle with depression.
I know this is a sports blog and I'm bringing the mood down (depressing everyone?), but your comment taojones was egregious and I couldn't let it pass without comment.

Posted by: talleyl | April 1, 2009 11:26 AM

That would make it one of the worst trades, not drafts. One may have lead to the other but what Colts settled for had nothing to do with being forced to trade Elway.

Posted by: ShortTakes | April 1, 2009 11:57 AM

"While Peyton Manning is supplanting his legacy"

You might want to look up the word "supplant" in the dictionary when you have a minute. As Inigo Montoya says to the Sicilian in The Princess Bride, I do not think that word means what you think it means.

Posted by: pjwhittle | April 1, 2009 11:57 AM

Some of you folks in the EAst believe that Elway is such an honored and respected person, a pillar of the community in Denver and Colorado.

HA ! ! !

He is a drunken philanderer who has been thrown out of and banished from upscale bars for his behavior. He has shown his true colors when he started cheating on his wife shortly after her diagnosis for breast cancer. He was a quarterback coach for the local high school where his son was the QB, and lost the chanpionship in Elway fashion by throwing multiple interceptions, but only coahed his own son.

No sir, Mr Elway is just another celeb POS who happens to live in Colorado

Posted by: biggcat | April 1, 2009 12:11 PM

Suggesting the Colts pick of Elway was bad because he said he wouldn't play for them is absurd. Elway's only leverage in negotiations was that he said he would play professional baseball instead. Does anyone seriously believe that would have come to reality? He wasn't that good of a baseball player. Ernie Accorsi and every football intelligent person associated with the NFL knew it. Unfortunately that list does not include Bob Irsay.

Posted by: evanford | April 1, 2009 12:14 PM

This is stupid. The Colts got a fourth place pick who turned into a seven time pro bowler, plus another player and a next year's first round pick. That's nowhere near the most terrible move ever.

If you can't grasp the benefit of the value of owning a resource you can't use yourself, I pity you. Maybe I'll offer to sell you 100,000 barrels of oil for $200, but you'd turn it down since you can't make use of all of that yourself.

Posted by: kemurph | April 1, 2009 12:14 PM

I thought that Elway objected to the Irsays, not the city of Baltimore.

Posted by: didnik | April 1, 2009 12:18 PM

"It would have taken an adult to read this post and you have a compelling argument."

Remain, I read the post, I am an adult, and it wasn't compelling because his point is ludicrous. His point is based on the pick being a bust for Baltimore, not the Colts, not Irsay. Yes, it was a bad draft pick, but hardly the worst ever. And BTW, it wasn't about Elway not playing for the Colts or Irsay, it was about not playing for Frank Kush.

I repeat again, look at what the Colts got for Elway. Now look at what the Bucs got for Bo Jackson. How can the writer suggest with a straight face this was the worst pick ever? Can you really say it was a compelling argument? I know high school journalists who research better than this guy.

Posted by: Exscribe | April 1, 2009 12:43 PM

Talleyl said: "Exactly what are you saying here, taojones? People who suffer with clinical depression are losers? 'Cuz that's what it sounds like."

No, talleyl, you have misread my post if that is your conclusion. The poster prior to mine had cited Mr. Bradshaw's comments about Mr. Elway as the basis for his despising of Elway. I merely pointed out that a comparison of the two men finds Bradshaw, shall we say, lacking.

Bradshaw was a gifted high school athlete with limited intelligence who had to take his skills to a lower-tier school. That he became the QB of the great Steeler teams of the 70s was mostly accidental.

In his first five years there, Bradshaw has said, Coach Noll spoke to him once. And that occasion, Bradshaw claims, was to say "Get out of my way," one time on the sidelines of a Steeler game.

It was the fact that the Steelers had a great running game (Franco Harris), excellent receiving (Lynn Swan, John Stallworth), and one of the best defenses ever assembled (too many names to list) that accounted for their unparalleled success in the 70s. Bradshaw was good enough not to blow his opportunity, but he was no Montana, Staubach, Unitas, Starr or ... well, you get the point.

Another poster said Elway was a loser until Terrell Davis joined the team; that's partially true (though I would maintain that it was the Broncos who were losers as a team, not Elway), but it was the dismissal of Dan Reeves and the return of Mike Shanahan that allowed Elway to blossom. Also cited was Elway's many fourth-quarter comebacks.

He had several, to be sure, but he has explained why that was the case: Under the Reeves regime in Denver, the offense was always kept bottled up - Reeves seemed to want the offense not to make mistakes more than take risks to exploit an advantage. As a result, the Broncos, more often than not, entered the fourth quarter trailing.

Only then was Elway allowed off the leash, since there was nothing to lose. Many, many times that resulted in a come-from-behind victory.

It was the early career of Elway that prompted Bradshaw's caustic comments. After he had a sit-down interview with Elway before the Broncos' Super Bowl win over the Packers, Bradshaw came to better understand the Broncos scheme, and he apologized to Elway for his earlier comments. Elway said "No problem," and they have been friendly, if not exactly friends, since that time.

To a previous poster who claimed that Elway started seeing other women ("philandering," in his view) after Janet Elway was diagnosed with breast cancer, neither you nor I know if that is true. I do know, however, that she actually was treated for colon cancer.


Posted by: TaoJones | April 1, 2009 1:43 PM

The worst draft pick ever was Rocky Thompson, a wide receiver from Bermuda by way of West Texas A&M, drafted number one (18th overall) by the New York Giants in 1971.

Thompson played slightly more than two seasons, gaining 302 combined rushing and receiving yards, with only 16 catches for 85 yards in his whole career.

He was also a kick returner. He gained 2,070 yards doing that in his short career.

That pick set the Giants back years.

Why is this the worst pick ever? Drafting one spot behind the Giants, the Oakland Raiders picked up Jack Tatum, who fiercely ruled their secondary for many seasons. The 20th pick went to the Rams and they took Jack Youngblood. The Cardinals, drafting in round two, got Dan Dierdorf at number 43 overall. Jack Ham went to Pittsburgh at 34th overall.

Youngblood, Ham and Dierdorf are in the Hall of Fame. Numerous pro bowlers went as low as as number 268 in the 11th round - Mike Wagner to the Steelers from Western Illinois.

Joe Theismann went 99th, Ken Anderson went 67th, Harold Carmichael 161 to the Eagles.

Rocky Thompson - the worst number one draft pick of all time.

Posted by: jharrington1 | April 1, 2009 1:46 PM

my, oh my...

the actual answer is....QB, I mean Congressman, Heath Shuler...

Posted by: ABethesda | April 1, 2009 1:58 PM

I think you should go out and harvest a basket of freshly grown spaghetti from the spaghetti orchard, sit down and eat it and then think again.

Posted by: dcc1968 | April 1, 2009 2:13 PM

EXSCRIBE is right. The Colts got Herrmann and two Pro Bowlers (Hinton for 7 years and Solt in 1987). The Bucs got nothing, as in ZERO, ZILCH! So, there is no debate on the question of which team got the least with the first pick. The Bucs got zero and that is a tough standard to top. The Bucs win in a landslide. As to what the first pick did, John Elway's fabulous career has been described above. But, Bo’s career is also worth a quick look. I doubt that many fans know that Bo has the highest average yards per carry of any RB in NFL history. Bo had per attempt! And he did this, and made the Pro Bowl, without ever having a decent quarterback to take the pressure off him. To see what an extraordinary accomplishment Bo’s 5.4 yards per carry is, look at the averages of the top ten running backs in the Hall of Fame. The only HOF running backs who averaged greater than 4.4 yards per carry were Jim Brown, Gale Sayers & Barry Sanders. Yet, not one of these elite backs equaled Bo on average yards per carry. The other 7 top HOF running backs (Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, Tony Dorsett, Thurman Thomas, Marcus Allen and Franco Harris) had career averages of between 4.1 and 4.4 yards per carry, a full yard per carry less than Bo's career average. So, Bo’s average yards per carry is higher than any HOF back and is more than a full yard higher than 7 of the top ten backs in the Hall of Fame.

Posted by: anbranjax1 | April 1, 2009 2:31 PM

Spidey103 got it right when he said: "It wasn't a bad pick, it was a bad trade."

So the whole premise of the article is faulty.

As Spidey points out, the Chargers did the same kind of thing and came out pretty good with Rivers.

Beyond that, I agree with the person who wrote that Levy must mean Manning is "cementing" his legacy. It doesn't make sense for someone to "supplant" his own legacy.

Posted by: mypitts2 | April 1, 2009 3:03 PM

I was at the first, and last, game John Elway played against the Colts at Memorial Stadium on 9/11/83. The fans in Baltimore sold out the stadium that day to yell and scream at Elway for dissing Baltimore. The Broncos won that game 17-10, but the fans screamed the whole game at Elway every time he came on the field. A buddy of mine was cussing so much at Elway, a big black man from a few rows down turned around and said, "You must not care about your women, but I care about mine and you better shut up". There are still old Colt's fans that remember what a whinny little B*tch Elway was.

Posted by: BaltoBoy2 | April 1, 2009 3:06 PM

Brian Bosworth - Seattle Seahawks. Now there was a big blond bust.

Posted by: sbowden1 | April 1, 2009 3:13 PM

Elway, the worst trade when the Colts got 2 pro bowlers out of the deal? Hardly. Wasn't even the worst draft in his class. Or don't you remember the 7th pick Todd Blackledge.

Heath Shuler the worst? Not by far.

How does this discussion include Ryan Leaf but forget about Todd (weed head) Marinovich.

Posted by: ProfessorWrightBSU | April 1, 2009 3:38 PM

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