From Jon Wagner SNYGiants columnist
Back in 1983, Baltimore football fans wanted John Elway, but Elway did want Baltimore and its lousy Colts, or their taskmaster head coach Frank Kush.
Three decades later, after finally gaining a large measure of revenge against Elway’s Denver Broncos on the way to Super Bowl XLVII, Baltimore has a chance to even the score.
After missing the playoffs for a fifth straight year, and winning just twice in 25 games over the 1981 and 1982 seasons, the Colts figured they were about to change their fortunes when they drafted the highly coveted Elway out of Stanford with the top overall pick in the 1983 draft.
Elway said, “No way,” to that however, and the multi-talented athlete was ready play baseball for the New York Yankees if the Colts had refused to trade him.
With their hand forced, the Colts sent Elway to the Denver Broncos and got little in return as Elway went on to become one of just three NFL quarterbacks (along with Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman) to go from the top pick to the pro football Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile, Baltimore fans were crushed as Elway’s rookie year in Denver became the Colts final one in Baltimore, when Colts owner Robert Irsay snuck his team out of town in the middle of the night and headed west to Indianapolis.
Over the next dozen years, Baltimore football fans went from witnessing one of the game’s all-time greats in Johnny Unitas, leading the Colts to consecutive NFL titles over the New York Giants in 1958 and 1959, to having no football team in their city while Elway became one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game for the Broncos.
Football finally returned to Baltimore during the end of Elway’s NFL career in 1996, when what happened to Baltimore, happened to Cleveland.
Just as Indianapolis stole Baltimore’s beloved Colts, Baltimore took Cleveland’s Browns as their own, renamed them the Baltimore Ravens, and left a football hole in Cleveland until a new Browns team would later be restored there.
While Baltimore was happy to have a team again, the Ravens struggled to three losing seasons and a .500 mark while failing to make the playoffs in their first four seasons.
Elway meanwhile, after posting a long list of NFL accomplishments that included three prior Super Bowl trips, went out on top by directing the Broncos to consecutive Super Bowl titles in the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
Just two years later, behind an outstanding defense, but still without much of a quarterback, the Ravens captured their only Super Bowl title to date.
However, Ravens and former Baltimore Colts fans alike, had to watch the career of eventual first-ballot Hall of Famer Peyton Manning begin in Indianapolis just as Elway’s career ended in Denver.
And, while Manning racked up four league MVP’s and his lone Super Bowl title six years ago, the Ravens went another 11 years without reaching a Super Bowl.
Until this year, when an insanely ironic twist of fate has come full circle, leaving the Ravens just one more win from having Baltimore match the Super Bowl victories of the quarterback that Baltimore Colts fans once hoped Elway would have delivered for them.
So, here we are.
Baltimore loses the Colts to Indianapolis, which gets Manning, who this season, goes to Baltimore’s arch enemy Elway, in Denver, and leads the Broncos to the top seed in the AFC, with Elway now the Broncos’ executive Vice President of Football Operations after again sticking it to Baltimore by signing Manning.
But, the Ravens, with at long last, a good quarterback of their own, had Joe Flacco ruin the Super Bowl dream of the Broncos, Elway and Manning on an unlikely last-minute touchdown pass in an overtime victory in Denver three weeks ago.
To add to the paradox, the next great Colts quarterback, Andrew Luck, who just might be named this season’s Rookie of the Year while Manning probably wins either an unprecedented fifth league MVP or a Comeback Player of the Year award, is not only a Stanford product like Elway, but he was developed at that school under San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, who together with his brother, Ravens head coach Jim Harbaugh, will make history on Sunday as the only pair of siblings ever to coach in the same Super Bowl.
And, for a couple final interesting layers of irony, the Ravens, prior to beating the Broncos in the AFC Divisional round, naturally started this year’s Super Bowl run with an AFC wild-card victory over Luck and the Colts, in Baltimore.
Plus, the heart and soul of the Ravens’ defense ever since the old Browns arrived in Baltimore, linebacker Ray Lewis, was drafted in the first round and recorded his first NFL sack against none other than Jim Harbaugh while Harbaugh was quarterbacking, of course, the Indianapolis Colts.
You just can’t make it up.
Now, the only question that remains in Super Bowl XLVII is whether another one-time Stanford quarterback again breaks Baltimore’s heart, or whether the Ravens, with Elway watching, can even the score.