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Sacco Sez: John Elway's two biggest drafts


Back in 1991, Los Angeles Times sports columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Murray wrote, "A star is not something that flashes through the sky. ... A star is something you can steer ships by. It stays in place and gives off a steady glow; it is fixed, permanent."

I think that quote well defines John Elway and his forever place in Denver Broncos history.

As the general manager of the Broncos, Elway already has guided and built rosters that took the franchise to two Super Bowls, winning one, but this year he presides over a draft like no one in NFL history has seen.

Indeed, in my opinion, it is one of the two most significant drafts in Elway's career.

Everyone agrees that there is a lot of college talent at the positions that can help make the Broncos better, so it is not so much about the players.

But with the COVID-19 rules in place through the month of April, the NFL has done its part by closing all team facilities through this time period.

Thus, the Broncos' offices (and those of all other teams) are closed.

Coupled with state and national regulations about social distancing and the limited numbers of people gathering in one place, will John limit his gathering to a small group in his house? At a hotel ballroom?

Is there one group at such a location and another (or others) of similar size at like locations, connected by computers and telephone lines?

We do not know.

But we do know this will happen, one way or another, and nothing shakes my confidence that Elway will design a way to get this done.

He is building a roster, and the draft is part of how this is done, along with players received by free agency or trades.

And that brings us to the other most significant draft in John Elway's career: his first one.

Now I am the team historian watching from the perimeter, but back in 1983 I saw it all from the inside.

To me, the acquisition of John Elway is certainly the most significant move in team history, as it paved the way for all others.

And it began the season before 1983.

Elway was a senior at Stanford and to watch him was to see something one had never seen before, a one-man team (the son of a coach, he would forever deny that label), and at that same time, then-Broncos owner Edgar F. Kaiser Jr., was going through a very difficult time with the Denver fans and press, who had been accustomed to the folksy style of previous primary owner Gerald H. Phipps.

In San Diego on Sunday, Nov. 28, hours before the Broncos were slated to play the Chargers, Mr. Kaiser called me into his suite at the Town and Country hotel to discuss Elway.

It was easy to acknowledge Elway as the greatest prospect at the most important position since Joe Namath.

But I thought I was lending some sort of awareness when I said, "You can never get him, Mr. Kaiser. He will be the first player selected in the draft."

He quickly showed his knowledge of business and society by politely responding, "Jim, anything in America can be bought and sold, for the right price. Leave that part to me."

The rest would fill a book.

But on draft day I watched the Baltimore Colts draft Elway, and I was there as Mr. Kaiser calmly called Colts owner Bob Irsay and have a very respectful conversation with him.

Every team was making its pitch, but all others thought it appropriate to call either Baltimore general manager Ernie Accorsi or head coach Frank Kush.

However, Irsay had decided to handle this one himself, and Kaiser had held Irsay in high regard as a colleague. He always called him Mr. Irsay, and Irsay referred to our owner as "that nice Kaiser boy."

After the first conversation Mr. Kaiser told me, "Jim, we are dealing on Elway. We are halfway there. We have halfway to go. Make sure you are ready."

He did not have to tell me twice.

When he went into the draft room and told the coaches the same, I saw them chuckle to themselves as he left the room.

But I never chuckled. I got ready.

One phone call led to another, and behind the scenes, the stories got better and better, and a week later John Elway was a Bronco.

His life, and the path of the team and the city, were forever changed.

The records are all well known, but in addition, it can be argued that Denver's reputation is to some degree measured by the Broncos, by orange and blue, and by what John Elway has done here, after that incredible trade by late owner Edgar Kaiser in 1983.

So there are uniquely difficult circumstances that pose challenges in this year's draft.

Living up to legend can be so hard.

But is it easier, or harder, when you actually are the legend?

Only he knows how he feels about that, but I do know that John Elway is up to the task.

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