When the Denver Broncos line up to play the Baltimore Ravens, as will happen this weekend, one thinks of playoff games between the two teams as the obvious connection.
And that is definitely the obvious connection.
But there is one connection, and one person, making it far greater than that.
I submit that one of the reasons we are playing in Baltimore this week, against the Ravens, has to do with the moves of two franchises, and the role that John Elway had in both.
Way back when, the Baltimore Colts were kings of the National Football League. They won back-to-back world championships in the late 1950s, and followers of pro football are well aware of the role that the Colts players had in the city of Baltimore.
They even had a band that is perhaps the most famous in pro football history, the Baltimore Colts' Marching Band. They were pro football royalty.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns were a threat every year with head coach Paul Brown and running back Jim Brown (unrelated, and both Pro Football Hall of Famers).
The late 1950s and the 1960s were a "golden era" in pro football, which exploded in popularity in the early 1960s.
Decades later, in the early 1980s, Elway was a star like one can barely imagine at Stanford University. He was drafted in the second round of the 1981 MLB draft by the New York Yankees and played a season of minor league baseball for them with the Oneonta Yankees. When his time came for the NFL draft, John was adamant that he did not want to play for the Colts (one reported reason for this desire was that the coach was Frank Kush), but many in Baltimore took it personally.
To make a real long story short, the Colts drafted Elway against his wishes, and he said he would likely play baseball for the Yankees.
The Baltimore franchise was struggling financially at that time, and it was widely felt throughout the sport of football, as well as the business of football, that they needed a football superstar to grow the team and the profits.
Enter John Elway. Except Elway did not wish to play for the Colts, and Denver Broncos owner Edgar Kaiser Jr. personally engineered a trade with Baltimore owner Bob Irsay.
The rest was history, both for the Broncos and the Colts, who continued to flail around financially.
Finally, Irsay moved his team to Indianapolis, and Baltimore fans (legitimately) felt betrayed and abandoned, to be kind.
Meanwhile, Elway was taking the Broncos to great heights. They were not quite a one-man team, but Elway in the 1980s was as close as you could come.
The Broncos were the only AFC team to go to three Super Bowls in the 1980s, and those teams had just one running back, tight end or wide receiver make the Pro Bowl during those three years.
In each of those AFC Championship games, Elway led the Broncos past the same team, the Cleveland Browns.
Browns owner Art Modell was desperate for a new stadium. Most observers felt that had his Browns gone to the Super Bowl one time, just one time, the city of Cleveland would have given him the stadium.
But it was not to be, almost entirely due to Elway.
Eventually, Baltimore was in line to receive a new NFL franchise — via expansion or relocation of another team — if the city built a stadium. With the Browns eager for such an offer, Modell & Co. made the move.
Had Elway gone to the Colts, they might have stayed in Baltimore instead of moving to Indy.
Had Elway not stood firmly in the path of the Cleveland Browns, they might have gone to the Super Bowl. Perhaps Modell would have had his stadium in Cleveland and not moved to Baltimore.
But we do not know what might have been, just what actually was.
And now we prepare to play the Baltimore Ravens (a nickname inspired by the famous poem by Baltimore resident Edgar Allan Poe). The current Cleveland Browns were an expansion team given to Cleveland to salve the wounds created by the original Browns' departure.
But just maybe the current map of pro football was altered many years ago by the stardom of John Elway.
I cannot prove it, but I can speculate, as many others have.