Baltimore Orioles: John Elway and the NFL’s contribution


There’s an interesting Baltimore link (and thus an indirect link to the Baltimore Orioles) regarding the NFL through a most unlikely source – John Elway. Yeah, THAT John Elway; one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. No folks, Elway never played for the Birds. However he could have at one time been a fixture in the city.

With the Ravens opening up their 2015 preseason this evening at M & T Bank Stadium against New Orleans, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at this “almost link.” I don’t need to tell you about Elway and what he did in his career. I grew up a Redskins fan in the 1980’s, but the big quarterbacks of the era were Elway, Dan Marino, and of course the great Joe Montana. And speaking for myself, I was a huge fan of all three.

Live Feed

Who made Patrick Mahomes' Mount Rushmore of NFL quarterbacks?
Who made Patrick Mahomes' Mount Rushmore of NFL quarterbacks? /


  • Denver Broncos team development: The Kaleidoscopic Chaos of ChangePredominantly Orange
  • Which Denver Broncos players were with the team the longest?Predominantly Orange
  • Broncos reportedly about to have new owner for record priceFanSided
  • John Elway and his lasting impact on the Denver BroncosPredominantly Orange
  • John Elway officially has a new role with Denver BroncosPredominantly Orange
  • That aside, John Elway was drafted out of Stanford in the 1983 NFL draft – by none other than the Baltimore Colts (with the #1 overall pick). As we painfully know, the Colts bolted town in the middle of the night in March of 1984. However Elway had also been drafted in the 1981 MLB draft by the New York Yankees. Elway, an outfielder, played for a season in New York’s minor league system, and owner George Steinbrenner very much wanted him to be the franchise’s right fielder of the future.

    For the good of the NFL, it’s a good thing he stuck with football – although he was a heck of a baseball player also (hitting .318 in the minors). However he unfortunately made it very clear after the 1983 draft that he had no urge to play for the Colts. His father (who had great influence over Elway) didn’t appear to be a huge fan of head coach Frank Kush, and both were wary of the Colts’ situation in Baltimore. It was no mystery that Robert Irsay wanted to move the team, and it appeared to only be a matter of time.

    Elway claimed he was content just playing baseball, and basically held his status with the Yankees over the Colts’ head. So they eventually traded his rights to Denver, and the rest of course is history. There are some who will say that Elway in effect standing the Colts (and Baltimore) up was the final nail in the coffin of the team moving. My personal opinion is that they would have moved anyways, and we would have seen a Peyton Manning-like saga play out in Indianapolis well before it actually did. But who really knows?

    Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    However let’s play the revisionist history game for just a second. Let’s say that Elway signs with the Colts, and becomes their quarterback. Is he the second coming of Johnny Unitas in the city of Baltimore? Again, it’s really tough to say. (That’s why the revisionist history game is so tough.) The Broncos had a much better team around Elway than the Colts would have at that time. He was almost the missing piece to being a contender, with their great defense (ironically called the “orange crush”) already in place. But what could he have been in Baltimore?

    It’s entirely possible that he would have played in Baltimore for one year and then the team still would have moved to Indianapolis. In fact, that’s what I think would have happened – Irsay had no loyalty to this community or the fans. That we know to be fact. However what if Elway had ended up being a guy around whom they could have built? Perhaps in a few seasons they would have had some additional pieces in place, fan support would have grown, and maybe – just maybe – the city and state would have gotten their act together in time to fund a new stadium (which was Irsay’s ultimate goal).

    More from Orioles News

    I doubt that would have happened, but it’s fun to wonder. Back then teams didn’t just re-tool on the skip through free agency like they do today. If that scenario had played out today they could have signed a few free agents and probably made a run of things with a young John Elway. But the fact is that 2015 doesn’t have much in common with 1983 – and as a kid of the 80’s that makes me sad!

    However also keep in mind that the Orioles were left as the only sports franchise in town, which grew their fanbase as a result. We see a similar effect with the Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA – that’s the only pro sports team those people have. And the fact is that both Baltimore and other cities learned a lesson in that it’s important to take care of your teams. And if not for that, the city wouldn’t have gotten the Ravens.

    Next: Baltimore Orioles: Is Dan Duquette mismanaging assets?

    More from Birds Watcher