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Sacco Sez: How the plan to get John Elway began in 1982

There is no question that John Elway touches all that there is and just about ever has been in Denver Broncos history.

No one has had a greater influence or is more deserving of his current role, and there is no one in whom Broncos fans have greater trust, or give greater love.

His new title as President of Football Operations/General Manager is completely fitting.

We all have those moments of "I remember when" concerning our greatest players, and I will never forget my own very first Elway moment.

It happened on Nov. 28, 1982, in San Diego.

View photos from Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway's career at Stanford. His jersey will be retired there Thursday night.

The 1982 season, which had been shortened by a strike, still had six regular season games and the playoffs remaining, and the NFL draft was five months away.

Everyone had seen Elway play for Stanford, mostly on television, and there was no question whatsoever that he would be the number one pick in the draft. Really, the current fan almost cannot imagine his college greatness or how clear his status was as the number one player in the country.

But acquiring him was a pipe dream for 31 teams, because only the team with the worst record had any chance at all.

But that day became the first in which I thought we had a chance.

The Broncos were playing the Chargers in San Diego and we were staying at the fabled Town and Country hotel on Hotel Circle. It was once a large and noble hotel, and by then it was mostly just large, but it still hosted lots of sports teams.

I had been called to owner Edgar F. Kaiser Jr.'s suite for an early Sunday morning meeting, well before the first bus was set to depart.

Mr. Kaiser had one topic of conversation, that being whether the public relations value in acquiring John Elway would be positive enough to consider pursuing.

He assured me that he had already had extensive conversations with our football people and had no questions about Elway's ability, but he wanted to know how the Denver press would take it.

I expressed my feeing that we had no chance because Elway would surely be the first player drafted and we had no chance to finish that low. In fact, we still harbored playoff hopes on that day, though they did not come to fruition.

But Mr. Kaiser was undeterred. He was the grandson of the Kaiser who built Liberty ships during World War II. He had business degrees from both Stanford and Harvard. And he had been a member of the extremely prestigious Trilateral Commission.

He had extraordinary confidence in being able to do anything he set his mind to, and he calmly replied, "Jim, don't worry about our chances to get Elway. Anything can be bought and sold in America, for the right price, and I can take care of that. I am mostly concerned in this conversation with public and press perception."

Naturally, I said that acquiring Elway, by draft or trade, would be perceived at the highest level.

We chatted for a few minutes more, he thanked me for my time, and as I departed Mr. Kaiser's suite, I knew we were in the game.

Mr. Kaiser, who is now deceased, bought and sold many companies. He had purchased the Broncos just a year and a half earlier and would sell the franchise to Pat less than two years later.

He loved the action of the business world and relished the competition involved in succeeding at something that was considered unlikely.

Family, friends and colleagues -- including Denver's mayor and the governor of Colorado -- surrounded surrounded John Elway for his Community Enrichment Award ceremony. (photos: Gabriel Christus)

We went on to lose to the Chargers later that day, but it was on Nov. 28, 1982, that I knew there was a possibility that the Broncos would have John Elway, resting almost entirely on whether Mr. Kaiser ultimately chose to move in that direction.

Six months later, on draft day, Mr. Kaiser told me privately, "We are halfway there on Elway. We still have halfway to go, but we are going to get him."

That was one of the many historic days in the history of the Broncos and John Elway, but to me it was the germination of a seed that had been planted in my mind, my first Elway moment, at the Town and Country Hotel six months before he became a Bronco and started the path he continues today.

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