May 2, 1983: The Day The Music Came To Life In Denver
John Elway was acquired in a trade.
May 2, 1999: The Day The Sound Was Silenced.
John Elway retired.
Saturday was the anniversary of both monumental events in the Denver Broncos’ history.
In between, Elway became the greatest professional sports star to wear jersey No. 7, according to Sports Illustrated, surpassing luminaries Mickey Mantle, Pete Maravich and Phil Esposito.
John The Bronco, The Duke of Denver, The Man With The Midas Arm, The Comeback Kid turned Colorado right-side up and made the Rocky Mountain Time Zone relevant.
As I once wrote in a Christmas parody of the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,’’ if Elway hadn’t come to Our Dusty Old Cowtown, the future panorama would have been completely dissimilar and certainly not as vivid, vibrant and victorious.
Perhaps the NHL wouldn’t have given Colorado another chance after the betrayal of Rocky Hockey in ‘82, and the Avalanche wouldn’t possess two Stanley Cup titles. Maybe Major League Baseball would not have eventually embraced the state, and the Rockies wouldn’t have advanced to the World Series. The Nuggets possibly would have continued as an NBA also-ran. And the Broncos without John at quarterback — sorry Steve DeBerg, Gary Kubiak and Tommy Maddox — wouldn’t have reached the Super Bowl five times and risen to world champions in his final two years. The Broncos also probably would not have secured a new stadium — previous public ballots failed — and may have moved to another city, as the franchise almost did three times before.
On his 50th birthday in 2010, Elway told me: “I came to Denver permanently on May 2, 1983, and this is my home.’’
After he arrived on a chartered jet that evening and raised the sports level of Denver a mile higher, I wrote a column that declared the Broncos’ deal with the Baltimore Colts “was the greatest steal since The Great Train Robbery."
“The Broncos, beset with problems on and off the field, have emerged from slimy depths.’’
The team had won only two of nine games in the strike season of 1982; the Orange Crush defense was in decline (allowing 152 points over five games), owner Edgar Kaiser Jr. was financially unstable and GM Hein Poulus was totally incompetent.
John was the savior.
Edgar his own self pulled off the Grand Heist this weekend 37 years ago.
When the meek-looking grandson of a steel-miller, ship builder and car maker maxed his money to buy the Broncos, he was a lonely outsider in the NFL. Only Bob Irsay of the Colts, who was despised by his fellow owners, befriended Kaiser.
The Colts drafted the omnificent Elway No. 1 in April, but the Stanford QB and his father Jack wanted nothing to do with Irsay or coach Frank Kush, a taskmaster the elder Elway had known when both were college coaches. The Elways threatened that John would choose baseball and the Yankees, who he had played for in the minors the previous summer, if he weren’t traded.
Kaiser called Irsay. “If you decide to trade Elway, let me know.’’ Instead, the Colts engineered a three-team exchange with the Bears and the Raiders that would send Elway to Oakland. Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who abhorred adversary Al Davis, talked George Halas into rejecting the trade. So Irsay called Kaiser.
Irsay accepted backup quarterback Mark Herrmann, the Broncos first-round draft pick (guard Chris Hinton), a 1984 first-round choice and exhibitions in 1984-85. (Irsay would sneak the Colts out of Baltimore in ’84, and those two games would be played in Indianapolis, and Kaiser would sell the Broncos to Pat Bowlen in ’84.)
John played for the Broncos from 1983-99 and started 252 games. Herrmann played for the Colts for two seasons and started three games.
On April 24, 1999, after he completed a round of amateur tournament golf at Cypress Point on the Monterey Peninsula, Elway limped noticeably over toward me. John acknowledged he was retiring because didn’t want once more to rehabilitate a knee he originally tore in high school. He had meant to make the announcement a few days earlier, but delayed in the aftermath of the Columbine High School tragedy of April 20.
John made the retirement official May 2.
But Elway produced another comeback in his life and career — this time on Jan. 5, 2011, as head of Broncos’ football operations. Two more Super Bowls, and, now, maybe a return to prominence.
What date will he choose for a second retirement in a future year? Nobody knows on May 3, 2020?