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Today in Sports History: 4/26 – John Elway Selected First in 1983 NFL Draft

Today in sports history (1983), John Elway was selected first overall by the Baltimore Colts in the 1983 NFL Draft. Elway was seen as almost a sure fire number one pick due to his extraordinary college career at Stanford. In the 1983 NFL Draft, Elway was the first quarterback of the six selected in the first round. That quarterback class also included Hall of Famers Dan Marino and Jim Kelly. The Baltimore Colts were coming off of a season where they finished 0-8-1. Looking to turn things around, Elway looked like the player who could save football in Baltimore.

Many years before Eli Manning, Elway was unsure on playing for the Colts, as they were the worst team in the league and didn’t really provide short-term success. Elway’s father also advised him not to play for Colts head coach Frank Kush, who had a reputation of being hard on players, including rookies. Baseball was also floated as an option for Elway. Since the New York Yankees had drafted Elway, he threatened to join the baseball team if the Colts did in fact draft him.

John Elway Selected First in 1983 NFL Draft sports history
Credit: Lutz Bongarts/Getty Images

John Elway Selected First in 1983 NFL Draft

Eventually, the Colts drafted Elway in hopes of trading him after the draft. When he was drafted by the Colts, he stated that he was planning to play baseball instead of football. The Denver Broncos drafted tackle Chris Hinton, someone who was on the Colts’ board. Finally, on May 2, the Broncos traded Hinton, quarterback Mark Hermann and a first-round pick to the Colts in exchange for Elway. The Colts moved to Indianapolis the next season and never really found consistent success until they drafted Peyton Manning in 1998.

Elway’s rookie season left some to be desired. He was very hyped in Denver, with some calling him one of the most anticipated athletes in NFL history. He debuted in the team’s first game of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Elway was relieved late in the game by Steve DeBerg, who led the Broncos to victory. Elway’s second game in his career came against the Colts in Baltimore. During the game, Elway was once again relieved by DeBerg, who once again led the team to victory.

In October, DeBerg was eventually named the starter. About a month later, DeBerg’s season was derailed by a shoulder injury and Elway once again got his opportunity to start. Elway finished his rookie season starting 10 games, throwing for 1,663 yards and seven touchdowns. He also added 14 interceptions.


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