Star-studded

O, BY THE WAY

A class to treasure - except in Baltimore

On the 1983 NFL Draft

April 25, 2008|By BILL ORDINE

Tomorrow's draft will mark the 25th anniversary of what, in my opinion, was the greatest NFL draft of all time - except in a few places, notably in Baltimore.

Many football fans recall the 1983 first round as the The Great Quarterback Draft - the one that produced John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly, Hall of Famers all. Three other quarterbacks were selected in that first round - Ken O'Brien, Todd Blackledge and Tony Eason - and even among that lesser group, O'Brien was a Pro Bowl selection and Eason took a team to the Super Bowl.

But in addition to Elway, Marino and Kelly, three more players selected that day went on to enshrinement in Canton - Eric Dickerson (Los Angeles Rams), Bruce Matthews (Houston Oilers) and, most recently, Darrell Green (Washington Redskins). In all, 15 of the 28 first-rounders in 1983 were Pro Bowl players, including the six Hall of Famers.

Even some of the players from that first round who didn't earn individual honors, like Jim Jeffcoat (Dallas Cowboys) and Willie Gault (Chicago Bears), had distinguished careers. And the second round included Rams wide receiver Henry Ellard, San Francisco 49ers running back Roger Craig and five defensive players who went to the Pro Bowl.

The Baltimore Colts got a pretty good player as a result of that draft, Pro Bowl offensive lineman Chris Hinton. But as any Baltimore fan will tell you, that was the draft when John Elway got away.

The Colts drafted Elway with the No. 1 pick and traded him to Denver in a notorious deal that brought Baltimore a few good players but cost one of the best quarterbacks ever. Of course, folks who know the story are aware of Elway's public reluctance to play here, but in an interview with The Sun's Rick Maese last year, then-Baltimore general manager Ernie Accorsi said he was hopeful back then that he could persuade Elway to be a Colt.

"I felt if this franchise was good enough for Unitas, it was good enough for everybody," Accorsi told Maese.

The trade with Denver was made by team owner and arch-villain in these parts, Bob Irsay, without the GM's knowledge, Accorsi wrote in his book. Not long after, Accorsi left the Colts franchise to work for the Cleveland Browns. Eventually, he became the New York Giants general manager and made the draft day deal that brought last season's Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Eli Manning, to New York.

In the Sun article, Accorsi laid out a domino theory of how the Elway trade led to the Colts' leaving for Indianapolis. If Elway had been a Colt, the team would have sold more season tickets - as many as 10,000 or 12,000 more by Accorsi's estimate. The political dynamics over getting a new stadium would have changed because of the enthusiasm a player of Elway's caliber would generate. It could have all been different, Accorsi believes.

Many Ravens fans would rather put that all to rest.

There is a new football legacy in Baltimore that the region has embraced, and the past, while respected, needs to be consigned to history - a history whose final chapter was written on that draft day 25 years ago.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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