April 25, 2023
Forty years ago, the Nuggets were involved in another playoff
series. And one of the most notable events in Denver sports history shoved it into the background.
On May 2, 1983, I was finishing
up my first season as the beat writer assigned to full-time coverage of the Nuggets. I had covered the NHL Colorado Rockies
for five seasons before they were sold and moved to New Jersey, and I was switched to the Nuggets.
After beating Phoenix in the
first round, Denver had lost the first three games of the Western Conference semifinals to the San Antonio Spurs, and that
night they faced elimination in Game 4 at McNichols Sports Arena.
The morning of the game, there was a major football story in the Denver papers, but
it had nothing to do with the Broncos.
On Sunday, May 1, at Mile High Stadium, the United States Football League’s New
Jersey Generals got a late 80-yard touchdown run from Herschel Walker and came back to beat the Red Miller–coached Denver
I enjoyed the USFL. I felt as if I had been in on it from the start -- because I had. I was in the New
York area for the Stanley Cup Finals and I covered the May 11, 1982, news conference at Club 21 in Manhattan, at which plans
for the USFL were unveiled. With former Broncos coach John Ralston doing much of the planning, the USFL was a sound idea that
would have worked—if only the league had stuck to its original cost-controlled, spring season model. Thanks, Donald
There was nothing in print or on the airwaves about the Broncos being on the verge of making the blockbuster trade
that would so affect the franchise’s future. By that night, though, the big story was making the rounds, and amazingly
it broke because a Houston radio announcer phoned a Denver sports talk show and said the Broncos were about to acquire the
rights to Stanford quarterback John Elway, the first overall pick in the NFL draft on the previous Tuesday, from the Baltimore
surprising that the lid stayed on that long. (There's no way it could happen in 2023. Also in 1983, my father worked for the
Broncos, but he didn't let anything slip to the reporter in the family.) The talks actually began informally before the draft
and then more seriously the day of the draft. Still, Broncos coach Dan Reeves showed up at the Nuggets’ game and sat
across from the benches and press row. He left the building during the game. Believe me, we noticed.
The Nuggets got 37
points from Kiki Vandeweghe and stayed alive in the series, winning 124–114. But my story ended up jammed into the bottom
right-hand corner of page 1 of the sports section.
The Broncos held a 10:30 p.m. news conference at the team’s Adams County headquarters
to announce the trade and Elway’s signing to a series of five one-year contracts. I was one of the few Denver reporters
attending the Nuggets game who stayed behind at McNichols, only a few miles away from the Broncos’ offices at the time.
The game ended a few minutes before the news conference began.
Broncos owner Edgar Kaiser, who lived in Vancouver, opened with these remarks: “What
I’m not going to say is that we have a deal in the works. We have made a deal with Baltimore and we have signed John
Elway.” With the deal closed that afternoon, Elway took a flight from San Jose to Seattle, where he boarded Kaiser’s
private plane and came to Denver, and he signed the contracts shortly before the news conference. “I’m definitely
thrilled to be here,” Elway told all those other reporters. “It was something I wasn’t expecting to happen.
I’m just glad to be playing in the NFL and glad to be playing for the Broncos."
The Nuggets lost the series in five games.
John Elway had a pretty
(Adapted from Playing Piano in a Brothel.)