Baltimore finally got John Elway.
But because his replacement got away, so did a victory, and the Denver Broncos beat the Colts, 17-10, today before 52,613 jeering fans in Memorial Stadium. It was the Colts' largest crowd in two years.
Mainly they came because of Elway, whom the Colts made the NFL's top pick in this year's draft but had to trade to Denver when he threatened to play professional baseball rather than join them. In his first game here, Elway was continually harassed by the crowd, which turned out despite 99-degree weather.
"It was really tough for me out there," said Elway, who was penalized for delay of game three times. "It was hard to get the plays off. I couldn't even call the plays in the huddle it was so noisy. Finally I told the players to go when the play goes."
Elway played his last down with the Colts leading, 10-3. Steve DeBerg came in and quarterbacked Denver to two touchdowns.
First, DeBerg passed 24 yards to Steve Watson for the tying score with 5:55 to play. Then, with 1:17 left, DeBerg moved the Broncos 58 yards for the winning points, running the final two yards for a touchdown with 29 seconds to play.
From the time Elway stepped onto the playing field for pregame practice until he left, he was unmercifully booed and jeered by the Baltimore fans.
Outside the stadium, vendors sold T-shirts with various off-color sayings about Elway and a number of spectators wore caps with the slogan, "It's payday, John Elway."
"I wasn't afraid," said a very hoarse Elway. "But now that I've gone through it, it was a tough situation.
"They (the spectators) definitely made it tough."
Elway, who was replaced by DeBerg in the season opener after injuring an elbow, completed only five of 15 passes for 45 yards in the first half and nine of 21 for 106 yards for the game.
He was hurt in the third quarter when linebacker Ricky Jones knocked him down as he scrambled before throwing a 31-yard first-down pass to Watson at the Colts' 23. DeBerg came on and was intercepted by Derrick Hatchett at the five.
Elway's right shoulder had been bruised. But he gave it one more try at the start of the fourth quarter before Coach Dan Reeves decided to go with DeBerg.
"Trying to play against that noise must have been devastating for him," said Reeves. "I've got to help him more, to get the plays to him quicker so he's got time to adjust to the noise.
"It's a shame the crowd jeered him like they did. People come to see great offenses and they missed that today because the noise really affects the play calling."
What the Colts' fans saw was a defensive struggle that not only affected Elway's game but had Baltimore quarterback Mike Pagel frustrated. Pagel finished with 10 of 25 passing for 120 yards and two interceptions, one week after a career-high 292 yards against New England.
"I'm disappointed in the passing game Pagel had," said Coach Frank Kush. "He couldn't hit a bull in the back with a fiddle. In a way you had to feel sorry for the defense. But we had mental breakdowns from penalties and lack of concentration."
Elway failed to complete either of two passes in the first quarter (he completed a third but it was nullified by an illegal procedure call) as the Colts took a 3-0 lead. Baltimore moved 52 yards in eight plays to the Broncos' 15 before Raul Allegre kicked a 32-yard field goal with 8:06 left in the first period.
Pagel's 28-yard pass to Tim Sherwin had given the Colts a first down at the 18.
Not only had Elway ended the quarter without a completion, but Chris Hinton, the rookie offensive tackle from Northwestern who came to Baltimore from Denver in the Elway trade, had gained two yards when he advanced a fumble by Pagel.
Denver tied it on Rich Karlis' 42-yard field goal with 1:51 to play in the half.
Karlis came on after Elway's third-down pass to Dave Preston was short of a first down at the 25.
The third quarter was scoreless, the Colts losing a touchdown when tackle Steve Wright was called for holding as Pagel teamed with Alvin Moore on a 30-yard swing pass. On the next play, Pagel was intercepted by Steve Foley at Denver's 47.
The Colts made it 10-3 with 11:45 remaining when Larry Anderson recovered Rick Parros' fumble and went 41 yards to score. Then it was DeBerg's time to rally the Broncos, as he had last week against Pittsburgh.
The winning touchdown came after DeBerg teamed with Watson on a 54-yard pass to the Colts' four.
"It was a great adjustment by Steve," said DeBerg. "He was supposed to run a post. I had to scramble and I saw him looking at me. I laid it up and he got to the ball.
"It's not my position to evaluate John's performance. It must be awfully frustrating for him to play in that noise. You can't concentrate. But he's going to improve and be a very good quarterback."
Elway said he was glad of DeBerg's help--and glad to be going back to Denver.
"I never had bad feelings about the people in Baltimore, but I'm sure glad I'm in Denver," he said.
To Baltimoreans, Elway had just one word to say, with a smile, "Bye."