With the draft now right around the corner, I thought it might be fun to revisit some of the greatest draft moments in Denver Broncos history.
Where else would one start besides the acquisition of John Elway. I know, I know, he was acquired by trade, but that’s just the end of the story, not the beginning.
The beginning came in San Diego on Sunday, November 28, 1982, while John was still a senior at Stanford. We were staying at the Town and Country Hotel in San Diego for a game against the Chargers, and Broncos owner Edgar Kaiser and general manager Hein Poulus called me into Mr. Kaiser’s suite. I didn’t know the topic, but left very excited.
He wanted to know the public relations value of acquiring John Elway. I said that it would be huge, but that we could never get Elway (boy, was I naïve) because he would be the first pick in the draft, which Baltimore would surely have. Mr. Kaiser informed me that anything can be done, anything could be purchased, any trade could be made, if you were committed to making it happen. Naturally, we all quickly agreed that Elway’s value was beyond enormous in every way possible.
Fast forward to the days before the draft, when every team in the NFL (seemingly) was making a pitch to either Colts’ general manager Ernie Accorsi or to head coach Frank Kush, or to both. But they Colts did not budge in their desire not to trade Elway.
But nobody was calling Bob Irsay, owner of the Colts. It turned out that he was going to call that shot-perhaps that is not the way it should have been, perhaps his GM or coach, or combination of the two, should have had total control of making the best deal for the Colts, but the reality is that as time went by, Bob Irsay was taking a greater and greater interest in making that decision.
Draft day came, and the Colts took Elway, to some degree of laughter and derision, for John had been very clear in his unwillingness to play there. Of course, he had been drafted by and signed with the Yankees, and he certainly was perceived to have a future in baseball (not like in football, but still he was regarded as a fine big league prospect).
Edgar Kaiser made his first call to Bob Irsay, and the first very, very general conversations were had-like a mating date in one of those animal kingdom nature films.
I was in the room when Mr. Kaiser announced to his coaches that he was working on a trade for Elway. Then he left the room and many of the coaches chuckled at him for what they knew about football and what he didn’t. I was a young PR guy then, but I did not feel it was right to chuckle at the owner, in front of or behind his back.
It turned out that they know more about football, but he knew more about business.
A couple of hours later I had cause to mention to Mr. Kaiser that Elway’s name had been mentioned by a staff member in the food room among the press (amazingly, no press member followed up, probably thinking it ridiculous), and the owner then took me into his confidence.
I’ll never forget it. He said, “Jim, we are moving on John Elway. We are halfway there, and we have halfway to go. I’ll let you know when we are there.” He left, and I did not chuckle. I knew serious when it stared me in the eyes.
So the draft continued, and ended, and when I discarded all the prepared biographies of all the players we did NOT take, I hung onto one. That Elway bio was going to take somebody a long time to write and type (no laptops in 1983, folks), and so I took the five page, single spaced legal page bio and placed it in my desk drawer.
Speculation continued like crazy for a week in the press about who would trade for Elway, and everybody in the NFL kept calling Accorsi and Kush.
But only one man kept calling Bob Irsay.
The deal was made one week later and Edgar Kaiser called Dan Reeves on the golf course, and in that phone call the owner told the coach that the deal was not a maybe, but was absolutely completed pending two factors, the approval of Dan Reeves, which came about as quickly as Dan could open his mouth to respond, and the actual signing of John Elway.
The deal was, Elway and his agent Marvin Demoff would fly into Denver that night by private plane and Bronco officials would meet them on the plane. If they could agree on a contract, the trade would be completed. If they could not agree on a contract, the officials would leave the plane, the plane would take off, and there would be no trade.
I was informed late morning that it was done, and of the confidence the team had in reaching a deal. I reached into my desk drawer, pulled out my already complete press release (the GM asked me how long it would take me to put one together, and I informed him that after my initial conversation with the owner, I saved everything from a week earlier, and could be ready in seconds-not a bad moment for me, by the way, personally or professionally).
I sat at my desk and waited when the workday ended.
The call came about 8:30 that the deal was done, and we called the press and told them there would be a 10:30 pm press conference at Broncos headquarters.
It was arguably one of the most significant press conferences in the history of not just the Denver Broncos, but for the entire state of Colorado.
And John Elway was a Bronco.