Few modern-day athletes can pull off a career in both the NFL and MLB simultaneously. The list is short and distinguished: Brian Jordan, Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson. Most people don’t know this, but John Elway almost joined the hallowed ranks back in the summer of 1982.
Great expectations for John Elway
Most NFL fans worth their salt are familiar with Elway’s career. To a generation, Elway was the quintessential all-American football star. He played college ball for Stanford between 1979-82. While he never went to a Bowl Game during his college career, his stats were more than respectable.
Elway was the Pac-10 player of the year twice, in both 1980 and 1982, as well as the Heisman Trophy runner-up his senior year. By the end of his college career, he held almost every collegiate offensive record possible with 774 completed passes and 77 touchdowns.
Elway continued to put up fantastic numbers throughout his pro career. After being initially drafted by the Colts, he was immediately traded to the Denver Broncos where he would stay for all 16 years of his NFL tenure. Elway brought the Broncos to six AFC championship games, won two back-to-back Super Bowls, was elected a nine-time Pro Bowler, and was named as part of the ’90s All-Decade Team.
After retiring in 1999, Elway went on to become the successful General Manager of the Broncos, a position he remains in to this day.
What might’ve been for Elway
Elway will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but there’s another chapter to his story. Prior to his NFL debut, Elway, one of the hottest college athletes in the country at the time, took a brief detour.
The two-sport athlete even led his high school team to a Los Angeles city championship against a team featuring a young Darryl Strawberry. Some players just decide they want to play two sports. This doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, but Elway had the chops to pull it off.
His multi-sport skills, confidence, and charisma attracted the attention of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner had a genius (insidious) idea that he would steal the rising star from the NFL where his fortunes seemed inevitably to lead, according to ESPN.
The summer before Elway’s senior year at Stanford, Steinbrenner turned on the charm, offering the young athlete $150,000 to play for a year on the Yankees’ Oneonta, New York, farm team. Elway accepted the offer.
While his minor league stats weren’t spectacular, they were solid. Across 42 games, he managed 48 hits, four home runs, 25 RBIs, and 13 stolen bases. Not bad for a single summer in the league.
Launching a career
Although he was no slouch at baseball, football was in Elway’s bones. The summer of 1982 would be the closest he’d get to the major leagues. Although persistent, Steinbrenner’s efforts were ultimately in vain. Elway made the choice to stick with football just in time for the 1983 draft.
Elway’s brief foray into baseball wasn’t just for fun. He was initially drafted by the Baltimore Colts, a team he refused to play for. As the story goes, Baltimore coach Frank Kush was known to have an abusive coaching style, a point Elway’s father had first-hand knowledge of during his time playing at Arizona State years earlier.
Elway used Steinbrenner’s open invitation to hardball Baltimore into trading him, which they promptly did. The rest, as they say, is history, all thanks to a season spent playing baseball on a farm team.