April 15, 2024

In 1983, Terry Bradshaw ripped John Elway for bucking the draft

It doesn’t happen as often as it should. It’s overdue to happen again.

A top prospect in the draft inevitably will refuse to play for the team that is poised to take him. That happened in 1983, when quarterback John Elway didn’t want to play for the Baltimore Colts. His posture, which included planning to play baseball instead, forced the Colts to trade Elway to the Broncos.

Elway took plenty of heat for it. It would have been a lot worse in today’s climate, with non-stop sports talk radio, the Internet, and anti-social media. But it was significant for the era, because Elway was called out by future Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw.

He didn’t want to go to a team that needed his services,” Bradshaw said at the time. “The thing in the National Football League is the team with the worst record gets an opportunity to improve by picking the best player. And Elway going to Baltimore would have helped them a lot. And by him saying, ‘I don’t want to do that,’ to me, it was a slap in the face to the draft and to the National Football League. I could have come out of Louisiana when I was the first player picked and said, ‘Well, hold it. I don’t want to go up to Pittsburgh. It’s ugly, it’s cold, the people don’t understand a southern boy, and I want to be close to my mama.’ I could have done the same thing, but I didn’t. I went. And the thing why I went was because they were 1-13. I said, ‘Well, I’ll go up there and I’ll make them a winner.’ And we did. So, the challenge of that and proving to him everybody that I was worthy of being the first draft choice was what inspired me to go on and do the things that we’ve done. And for a guy like Elway to come and say, ‘Well, I want to be on the West Coast and I want to be on the beach and I’m a California boy.’ Well, who cares what you are, you know? And he said, ‘Well, I’ll play baseball.’ Play baseball. You should play baseball, because in my opinion, he’s not the kind of guy you win championships with. He never did it when he was at Stanford. I don’t think he’ll do it Denver and personally, don’t care if he ever does it.”

If Terry didn’t want to go to Pittsburgh, he should have not gone to Pittsburgh. In 1970, however, there really were no options. He didn’t have a bank account full of NIL money, and he had no effective way to make a public case for going to the Saints, who drafted Archie Manning one year later.

Nowadays, Bradshaw is exactly the kind of dynamic personality who could pull off a full-scale pushback against the Draft Industrial Complex. He’d have millions in the bank from his college career, and he could make in a very charismatic way his case for being close to his mama.

So why did Bradshaw call out Elway in 1983? It’s as simple as Bradshaw not wanting someone else to get to play by a different set of rules than the rules that were forced on him. It also worked for Bradshaw to go to Pittsburgh, even if it took a little while for him to get it figured out. Four Super Bowl wins. That probably wouldn’t have happened for him in New Orleans.

It almost didn’t happen for Elway in Denver. Finally, in 1997 and 1998, he won. And Bradshaw himself was there to hand him the trophy that capped his career.