The Baltimore Colts spurned all offers for the first pick in yesterday's National Football League draft and chose John Elway, the Stanford quarterback who said he'd rather play baseball for the New York Yankees than play football in Baltimore.
Nine hours after the Colts drafted him, Elway said at a press conference in San Jose, Calif., that he had reached an agreement in principle with the Yankees, who own his baseball rights.
"I think the agreement is for five years, but I can get out of it after the first, second or third year," Elway said. "I'm bewildered right now. I don't know where I am, but I know I'll never play in Baltimore.
"Right now, it looks like I'll be playing baseball with the Yankees. It will be a couple of days or maybe even two weeks before we make a final decision. We haven't ruled out football but it doesn't look good.
" . . . They knew I held a royal flush and still they called me on it," Elway said of the Colts.
Elway said his agent had talked with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner about a five-year, escalating-salary deal that would average out to about $500,000 a year. Elway said he could get out of the contract after any of the first three seasons, paying back any advance money received.
"There's some work to be done on it. It's just a question of writing it up," he said.
It was learned last night that after the Colts drafted Elway, the Redskins and at least two other teams had offered to trade draft choices to Baltimore for him.
A Redskins source said the team had offered the Colts its first- and second-round choices this year and first- and second-round choices next year. The source said the Redskins would probably have traded Elway, getting those picks and several more in return if the deal had been consummated. Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard last night said, "Yes, we made them an offer and they turned us down." He declined to say what the team had offered.
The Atlanta Falcons made the Colts the same offer and the New England Patriots, who had tried and failed last week to get Elway before the draft, offered the Colts their first-round choices in 1983, 1984 and 1985 and a second-round choice this year.
In addition, it was learned the Los Angeles Raiders were very close to pulling off a deal Monday with the Chicago Bears that would have given the Raiders a No. 1 choice they would have used to trade for rights to Elway, considered among the best quarterback prospects in NFL history.
The Raiders tried to trade two veterans for Chicago's first choice. The Raiders then would have given the Colts two No. 1 picks and a No. 2 pick this year, another No. 1 in 1984 and backup quarterback Marc Wilson.
But sources said the Raider-Bear deal fell through. And, the Colts wanted more, specifically another third-round pick this year.
The San Diego Chargers also were interested in Elway, but backed off after finally reaching an agreement with their veteran all-pro quarterback, Dan Fouts, on Monday night. Fouts, 32, had been seeking a $1 million a year contract, the Chargers were offering $750,000, and they reached an agreement in principle somewhere in between.
So the Colts decided to risk going for Elway, who also is an outstanding baseball outfielder who played Class A ball for the Yankees last year.
Shortly after the draft began at 8 a.m. in the Grand Ballroom of the New York Sheraton Hotel, Elway became the first of a record six quarterbacks picked in the opening round of the all-day, most-of-the-night, 12-round draft.
"I hate to say this, but it's a gamble we have to take," said Colt Coach Frank Kush, whose No. 1 draft choice of last year, quarterback Art Schlichter, is involved in an NFL probe concerning his gambling.
Kush said he spoke with Elway shortly after the Colts picked him. "He was disappointed," Kush said in Baltimore. "He said he was going to play baseball. I told him I wished him well in whatever he did . . . We'll be patient and time will tell."
Last night, Kush said: "There's absolutely no trade talk about him at this point, tonight or tomorrow . . . We still consider him our draft pick."
"We listened to trade talks right to the last minute," said Colts General Manager Ernie Accorsi. "We never got the compensation we thought the pick deserved. We understand the risks involved, but if we are going to win, we have to make those decisions."
Elway, whose father Jack is head coach at San Jose State, has said repeatedly he did not want to play in Baltimore for a team that did not win a game in 1982. And Jack Elway reportedly would prefer his son not play for Kush, a demanding disciplinarian.
"Three times we've told Kush that John wouldn't play with the Colts and the last time was this morning after he was drafted," Jack Elway said. "This matter with the Yankees could be resolved any time from two days to two weeks . . . We know for a fact the Raiders offered three first-round picks and Marc Wilson and the Colts turned it down."
Later in yesterday's draft, even George Allen made a move. Allen, now coach of the U.S. Football League's Chicago Blitz, signed Notre Dame center Tom Thayer to a contract. He did it on the same day the Chicago Bears apparently wasted a pick on Thayer, in round four.
The NFL returned the favor when the Chargers made Trumaine Johnson of the Blitz the first USFL player drafted, in round six. Other picks included quarterback Reggie Collier of Birmingham (by Dallas in round six) and running back Craig James of the Washington Federals (by New England in the seventh).
"I was very excited," James said of his selection. "Right now, I'm dedicated to playing four years with the Washington Federals. I've made that commitment and I'm still glad I did."
The Chargers seemed to be the biggest winners, signing Fouts and picking three times in the opening round. The NFL's most prolific offensive team used two of its top choices to bolster a dreadful defense, taking Arkansas linebacker Billy Ray Smith with the sixth selection and San Jose State defensive back Gill Byrd with the 22nd. Coach Don Coryell got help at wide receiver with the 20th pick--Arkansas' Gary Anderson, a swift, deep threat who also is an outstanding return man.
Of the six quarterbacks taken in the first round, five went to AFC East teams. Kansas City took Penn State's Todd Blackledge with the seventh pick, Buffalo took Miami's Jim Kelly with the 14th, New England took Illinois' Tony Eason with the 15th, the New York Jets took Division II California-Davis' Ken O'Brien with the 24th and Miami took Pitt's Dan Marino with the 27th.
Following Elway's selection, the Los Angeles Rams took SMU's breakaway tailback, Eric Dickerson, with the second pick, and Seattle followed by choosing Penn State running back Curt Warner.
Dave Rimington, a 290-pound center and Nebraska's two-time Outland Trophy winner, went to Cincinnati; he was the 25th player taken.