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Would He Rather Be A Unitas Or A Mantle?
Ralph Wiley
April 11, 1983
Whether John Elway will choose football or baseball is a toss-up, but either way he's ticketed for stardom
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April 11, 1983

Would He Rather Be A Unitas Or A Mantle?

Whether John Elway will choose football or baseball is a toss-up, but either way he's ticketed for stardom

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"We'd love to have him, sure," said Brandt during the NFL playoffs. "But there's something to be said for parity in the NFL." So Dallas feels if it got Elway, there might not be parity in the NFL. The ultimate compliment.

In the NFL the wooing of Elway begins with Frank Kush and Robert Irsay, the coach and owner, respectively, of the Baltimore Colts, the team with the No. 1 pick in the draft. Kush visited with Jack Elway in a restaurant near the San Jose State campus in February, a meeting John declined to attend.

"It was the first time I'd met Frank Kush," says Jack. "He's got a different philosophy of coaching than I do, but I admire him. He wanted to know how John felt about Baltimore. If John wanted to come, then he'd take him. If not, they'd trade the pick."

It now seems likely that the Colts will make that trade. John has never said publicly he won't play in Baltimore, but he admits he is cool to teams outside California, except the Seattle Seahawks—his girl friend, Janet Buchan, a former All-America swimmer at Stanford, is from Tacoma—and the Cowboys. "I like California," he says. "I've never played in less than 45-degree weather."

Before Kush left, he gave Jack a bit of advice. "He told me to get John an agent," Jack says. "We hadn't had one. But I wouldn't know where to start counting the calls regarding John." John estimates these contacts have been in "millions," with only a half-smile. Jack decided on Marvin Demhoff, a Los Angeles-based attorney who had handled the contract of Defensive End Donnell Thompson, a first-round pick of the Colts in 1981. "Eventually, we'll need help with endorsements and investments," says Jack. Says Gordon Banks, a Stanford teammate of Elway's who's now with the USFL Oakland Invaders, "Before long it'll be Wells Fargo, Bank of America and the John Elway Bank."

"We've talked to the Cowboys and 10 to 12 other teams, contenders around the league," says Demhoff. "Most are walking slowly until they know how Baltimore will handle it." As of last weekend, Irsay had had at least one discussion with the Cowboys, more with other teams, especially the San Diego Chargers. In these conversations Irsay has reportedly shown interest in acquiring offensive players, particularly linemen.

The intense interest in Elway among NFL teams exists despite a glut of quarterbacks in this year's draft, even with UCLA's Tom Ramsey, Southern Mississippi's Reggie Collier and LSU's Alan Risher already signed by the USFL. Still available are Illinois' Tony Eason, Penn State's Todd Blackledge, Pitt's Dan Marino and Miami's Jim Kelly, all potential first-round choices. Notwithstanding this crop and the presence of Joe Montana and Dan Fouts in San Francisco and San Diego, the only California NFL team that has not talked with Demhoff about Elway as of last weekend was the Los Angeles Raiders. "Their trial is ending this week," said Demhoff, referring to the Raiders' suit for damages against the NFL that stemmed from the dispute over the team's move from Oakland to L.A. "Maybe we'll hear from them after that's wrapped up."

Elway would like that. He breaks into a smile at the thought of playing in the same backfield with Marcus Allen. "If I could choose, it would be the Raiders or Seattle," he says. But neither team has a particularly strong bargaining position. It's generally assumed that any team trading with the Colts will have to give up its own first draft choice as well as players. The Raiders have the 26th pick in the draft. Seattle has the ninth choice but not enough offensive talent to offer the Colts.

The 49ers have the 22nd choice. San Francisco Coach Bill Walsh, though he helped recruit Elway while at Stanford and calls him "probably the best college quarterback I've ever seen," has Montana and is pleased with him. Still, the 49ers and Demhoff have talked. The Rams are now coached by John Robinson, whose Trojans faced Elway for four years while Robinson was at USC. The Rams have a bunch of big offensive linemen and the third draft pick, but they gave up a bundle in draft choices and cash to sign Bert Jones and Vince Ferragamo last year and don't want to spend too heavily for the quarterback spot again. A source in the Rams' front office says, "I don't think we have a shot at Elway. They're working on something with San Diego."

Fouts, San Diego's free-agent quarterback, is seeking a contract for $1 million a year, but Charger insiders say if owner Gene Klein has to spend that sort of money at quarterback, he would rather invest in the future, i.e., Elway. Goodby, Fouts. The Chargers have superior players to offer Baltimore, not to mention the fifth and 20th draft picks.

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