What if John Elway had played for the Oakland Raiders? That gulp you just heard was from every Denver Broncos fan, but it almost happened. ESPN is doing a documentary on April 23rd about the quarterback class of 1983, and the potential trade of Elway to the Raiders is one of the stories in the program.
The Broncos and their fans have the late NFL commissioner, Pete Rozelle to thank for Elway ending up in the orange and blue. According to many sources, including Ron Wolfe who was with the Raiders at the time and Ernie Accorsi who was with the then Baltimore Colts, a trade that would have sent Elway to the Raiders was all but done. Rozelle vetoed the trade for reasons that are either unknown or not reported.
For those who may not remember, Elway was the best prospect to come out of college in decades and the Colts had the number one pick. Elway, however, made it clear that he would not play for then Colt’s coach, Frank Kush. The Colts drafted him anyway but Elway stood firm, and was going to play baseball for the New York Yankees for a year. He would have re-entered the NFL draft the following year.
The Raiders, among other offers, reportedly offered the Colts three first-round picks for Elway before the draft. It was at that point that Rozelle stepped in and voided the deal. Within days after the draft, the Broncos made the trade that changed the course of the franchise forever.
The Broncos sent their number one pick from that year, Chris Hinton to the Colts along with a first-round pick the next year and backup quarterback Mark Herrmann. Considering what the Raiders had offered before the draft, the deal the Broncos made was highway robbery. It also changed the directions of the AFC West rivals.
The Raiders have not won a Super Bowl since January of 1984 and have only been to only one more in those 30 years. They have also gone through too many quarterbacks to count looking for the next Elway, but have come up dry. Today the Raiders are quite possibly the worst team in the NFL and have been one of the leagues laughingstocks for the better part of a decade.
With Elway as the quarterback, the Broncos went to five Super Bowls and won back-to-back World Championships in 1997 and 1998. When Elway retired, he had the most wins in NFL history for a starting quarterback. He is still in the top five of most passing categories, and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Now Elway is back with the Broncos as the Vice President of Football Operations and once again has brought the team back from the depths. The Broncos were 4-12 when Elway took over following the 2010 season, and they were at an all-time low. Since he assumed control, the Broncos have won two straight division titles and are one of the favorites to win next year’s Super Bowl.
Elway is now associated with the Broncos now and forever, and the Raiders are still trying to find their next quarterback. So if you are a Broncos fan and so inclined, you might want to send up a thank-you to Rozelle tonight.
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