Published on April 29th, 2013 | by Clint Davis

ESPN 30 for 30: Elway to Marino [2013]

ESPN 30 for 30: Elway to Marino [2013] Clint Davis

Summary: Director Ken Rodgers examines the incredible 1983 NFL Draft and it's impact on league history. He builds tension effectively but only hardcore fans of football strategy will be truly engaged.


Solid Work

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80 min.  |  Director: Ken Rodgers

Channel: ESPN  |  Original Air Date: April 23, 2013

Since the 1983 NFL draft, the annual event has turned an all-out circus.

Last weekend millions of sports fans sat around watching, reading, and talking about the NFL Draft.  From my days in sports talk radio, I know some fans take the Thursday and Friday of the draft off work to sit with a cooler of beer next to the recliner and watch round-the-clock coverage of picks and analysis.  The draft isn’t just a room full of general managers and stat geeks pouring over books of projected statistics, it’s an event that fans all over the country agonize over for one weekend per year.

That wasn’t the case until 1983.

Director Ken Rodgers’s entry to the ESPN 30 for 30 series, titled Elway to Marino, takes a look at the incredible group of talent in that year’s first round, as well as the lasting legacy it has had on the modern NFL.  The movie’s moniker refers to the central source of its tension–the mind-boggling amount of time (and players) between John Elway’s selection at #1 and Dan Marino’s at #27.  Half of the appeal in watching this documentary are the “a-ha” moments at the laughable picks made between the pair.

Sports fans know the draft is tricky business because it’s based completely on the unknown.  General managers can become legends or laughing stocks over the course of four days–this draft was no different.  The star of Elway to Marino is neither of the legendary QBs in its title, instead its chief figure is super agent Marvin Demoff who represented both of them.  During the process of juggling offers for his star client Elway from 1982-’83, Demoff decided to keep a detailed journal of each day’s business.  This previously unseen diary helps move the story along–with Demoff actually reading the entries in a reconstructed set of the New York Sharaton Hotel, where the ’83 draft took place.

Elway pioneered the art of players telling NFL teams where they wanted to play, rather than vice-versa. Eli Manning followed suit in 2004.

Of all the 30 for 30 entries, this one particularly caters to die-hard football fans.  Not necessarily guys who are into Lombardi-style X’s and O’s, but fans of the behind the scenes strategy that GMs and front office personnel put into building the perfect draft.  The amount of name dropping, industry jargon, and rapid-fire anecdotes will likely turn off the casual pigskin purveyor.

Rodgers pulls together some great names for his interviews including Elway, Marino, Demoff, former Colts GM Ernie Accorsi, Don Shula, and other members of the 1983 class including Jim Kelly and Todd Blackledge.  He also pulls off his attempt to make that year’s draft stand out as the precursor to today’s circus-like atmosphere surrounding the annual event.  The 1983 draft was held in a hotel ballroom with a scant group of angry New York Jets fans booing their team’s selection of UC-Davis’s Ken O’Brien (three picks before the Miami Dolphins took Marino)–versus this year’s event which was held at Radio City Music Hall with thousands of angry Jets fans posting angry Twitter posts about their team’s selections.

Three of the six QBs selected in 1983’s first round are Hall of Famers (Elway, Jim Kelly, and Marino).

The movie makes a solid case for that Saturday thirty years ago leading to where we are now, including being the first time six quarterbacks were selected in one round, the level of talent was arguably better than any other since (six Hall of Famers in round one), and the number of trade attempts kept fans and media outlets waiting out countless rumors.   As a film, Elway to Marino is informative and interesting, also providing some insight into behind-the-scenes stories like Al Davis’s “probably accurate” belief that the NFL had conspired against his Oakland Raiders.  Also, the film’s score keeps the movie tense in the same way 2011’s Moneyball made baseball drafts seem akin to saving the world from impending Armageddon.

I would rip the movie for its exaggerated feeling of doom when talking about possible changes to the 1983 draft order, at the end of the day, it’s still a movie about rich white guys picking college students out of a hat and paying them millions of dollars.  If Elway hadn’t been traded to Denver, he likely still would have been a Hall of Famer, and same to Marino.  Also, Elway to Marino is narrated by Tom Selleck…for apparently no reason at all.  He’s actually a pretty boring narrator.

This latest 30 for 30 entry provides a great look at the chess-like intrigue behind the NFL draft including the conjecture for and against trades and new insight into missed shots of the 26 teams that missed out on the greatest NFL player to never win a Super Bowl.  …On an unrelated note, I also learned that John Elway and his childhood friends used to watch All My Children together.

At least one thing that’s stayed consistent between 1983’s draft and today though, is that Jets fans are still assholes!

Watch Elway to Marino online.

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About the Author

Clint Davis is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based journalist who dropped out of film school to write news! Email him at

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