Chris Hinton plopped his 286-pound body onto a new sofa, and raised his right eyebrow when an an old college friend mentioned the name John Elway.

"You know what? I could become a trivia question," Hinton said. "Maybe 20 years from now when I'm reading through a sports magazine, it will hit me. 'Who did the Baltimore Colts get for the greatest quarterback in history?' I've been thinking about it. I think I want to send John Elway a bottle of champagne with something funny written on the card. You know, I've never even met him."

Chris Hinton has a good sense of history. On May 2, Elway, who said he would become a baseball player rather than be a Baltimore Colt, was traded by Colt owner Robert Irsay to the Denver Broncos for backup quarterback Mark Herrmann and Hinton, Denver's first-round draft choice from Northwestern.

Sunday in Memorial Stadium against Denver, Hinton will start at right guard, and finally meet Elway.

It all started on April 26, when Hinton was drafted by Denver, the fourth player of the first round.

"I flew to Denver on Monday (draft day), and flew back to Chicago on Thursday and lived it down a little bit," Hinton said. "And on Monday, my agent (Dick Lynn) was looking for me all day because he had heard rumors from different reporters in Denver that I would be traded."

At 9 p.m. Monday, Lynn called and said to Hinton, "Are you sitting down? You know, we're in this thing together, and we're going to stick it out, and . . .

"About 45 minutes later," Hinton continued, "the Denver general manager (Hein Poulus) called and told me I was traded. I didn't even talk to anybody from Baltimore until Wednesday when I called Coach (Frank Kush)."

Asked how he felt the next morning about the way the trade was handled, Hinton said, "Like a second- class citizen."

Hinton signed with the Colts shortly thereafter, following some talking with the Chicago Blitz of the U.S. Football League. He bought a Saab with $19,000 cash and drove to Baltimore. Someone again asked Hinton how he felt. "Like a rich second-class citizen," he said.

Hinton's teen-age years were spent living on the South Side of Chicago--the rough part, just east of Comiskey Park. After turning down many of the top football producing schools to go to Northwestern, he started an odyssey that somehow led to the National Football League.

"We won a game my third week at NU, and the next time we won was the fourth week of my senior year," Hinton said. "Pretty big gap, huh? I played three different positions, and never one of them two years in a row.

"My sophomore year, I played the first four games at linebacker, the next four at tight end, then was moved back and started the last three at linebacker. My junior year I played tight end, and my senior year, I got switched to tackle."

Kush believes the position changes have helped make Hinton a better player. With the Colts, Hinton has already been shifted between tackle and guard.

"Despite all the confusion, he didn't develop losing habits," Kush said. "He's inconsistent now, like any rookie would be at his position. But he has no limits; he's big, strong, fast and smart. I like his good horse sense."

It took an ugly incident in college, Hinton says, to straighten him out. On the first day of his junior year, new Coach Dennis Green kicked Hinton off the team for 10 days when he quit the mile run with a lap to go. "I went home and did a lot of soul-searching and realized I could put a lot more into football.

"Going into my senior year, I set a goal of being one of the top 56 players and that was pretty farfetched at the time," Hinton said. "People thought I was crazy."

It doesn't seem so crazy now that Hinton is starting in the NFL and making $200,000 a year.

"The more I think about it, I guess I will send John Elway a bottle of champagne," Hinton said. "Who knows? In 20 years, maybe I won't be trivia. Maybe he'll be the answer to, 'Who was traded for the best offensive lineman in history?' "