In the middle of a whirlwind visit to New York's Yankee Stadium last weekend, John Elway admitted he wished the National Football League draft already had been held.
"I'd like all this to be over," he said.
But for Elway, the much-heralded athlete from Stanford University, the pressure of deciding whether to play professional baseball or football next season is just beginning to mount.
He is expected to sit down with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, probably today, and hold preliminary contract discussions. The Yankees own the baseball rights to Elway, who played for their New York-Penn League franchise last summer, batting .318 while making $140,000 in bonuses and salary.
The football offers keep coming in. Elway's agent, Marv Demoff, says his client seeks at least a $7-million, five-year contract. Demoff admits to having discussions with at least five National Football League teams, including the Baltimore Colts, who hold the first pick in Tuesday's draft.
In the remaining days before that draft, Demoff and Elway will be able to use all the leverage the gifted quarterback has, thanks to his two-sport skills. What Elway wants to do is simple: name what NFL team should draft him. And there is no reason to expect he won't be successful.
Elway is a blue chipper, a quarterback good enough to carry a franchise for years. He is a glamour player at the glamour position, a talent who, like Herschel Walker, rarely comes along.
That is why the scramble for Elway's signature is so heated among NFL teams, especially because it is obvious he doesn't care much about playing in Baltimore.
Demoff has all but said that Elway won't sign with the Colts. Last weekend, Elway wouldn't go that far, leaving the door open slightly. But for a team with as many needs as Baltimore, it would be counterproductive to pick Elway unless the Colts knew for certain he would sign.
That's why Coach Frank Kush and General Manager Ernie Accorsi are hedging, publicly and privately. They are allowing other teams to court them, using draft picks and veteran players as lures.
Kush says: "To make a trade, we would want a lot of bodies in return, probably a lot of draft picks. We would want a lot of high-round choices."
Although both Tony Dorsett and Earl Campbell wound up with teams of their choice (Dallas and Houston) by indicating they might be hard to sign if drafted by Seattle and Tampa Bay, such demands rarely have worked with the NFL. But Steinbrenner's serious interest in signing Elway, an outfielder, has made this a unique case. Elway has a viable alternative that he almost certainly will use if the NFL doesn't do as he asks, or doesn't pay the money he wants.
Demoff and Elway have tried to make things easy for Accorsi and Kush. Elway has picked the teams he'd prefer to play for, and Demoff has forwarded that list to the Colts: West Coast clubs and/or contenders only, please, with the former preferred. Seven teams apparently have expressed serious interest in Elway but of those, only five seem to have a strong chance to land him: San Diego, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco, Seattle and Denver. The Los Angeles Raiders also are considered a possibility.
San Diego has the most to offer. The Chargers have stockpiled choices for this draft, which was supposed to be the best ever until the U.S. Football League diluted the pool. San Diego has 16 picks, the same as the Rams, but the Chargers boast two first-rounders (fifth and 20th) and two in the second round (36 and 49).
The Chargers also have a quarterback problem: Dan Fouts. The NFL's throwing machine wants a new contract, which would pay him $1 million a year. Owner Gene Klein, a fan of Fouts but no lover of Fouts' agent, Howard Slusher, has balked. Fouts, a free agent, didn't get a qualifying offer from any other NFL team, and a scheduled meeting with USFL Commissioner Chet Simmons never came off.
At the recent NFL meetings, Chargers Coach Don Coryell said that if Fouts wasn't signed by draft day, San Diego would have to either trade or draft a quarterback rather than chance having Ed Luther as their only quarterback for the first day of training camp. Coryell has since backed off that statement, apparently under pressure from the team's front office, but it's obvious the Chargers would consider trading for the right to draft Elway.
Elway and Demoff say a final decision between baseball and football won't be made until after the draft. But sources throughout the league said yesterday it is essential that any team trading with Baltimore for the right to draft Elway already have a contract agreement worked out with the player. Otherwise, that team runs the risk of wasting the draft and seeing Elway sign with the Yankees. So Elway may be forced to make a decision earlier than he wants.