I feel like Cinderella, I’m late to the ball and I need to make a memorable entrance. Let’s hope like Cinderella, it’s not a more memorable because of the ‘dramatic exit.’ So here we go.
The 1983 trade of John Elway was not the first time the Colts traded away the #1 pick in the NFL draft. In 1975, the Colts had the #1 overall selection and traded it away to the Atlanta Falcons. Did this trade change the Colts’ destiny? Was it the first of many mistakes that led to their eventual departure? Hind sight is 20-20, but I feel the trading of this pick and the selection made, led to the downfall of the Baltimore Colts. The Colts drafted Ken Huff, 1974 all American and runner up for the Outland Trophy. No one can say for sure what would have happened if we had kept the pick. But it’s nice to dream and think about what if we had kept the pick and drafted 1 of the 2 Hall of Famers we passed on.
Joe Thomas was controversial for his many trades and his treatment of the veterans. He is infamous for his trade of Johnny Unitas to the Chargers. But it cannot be denied he restocked the Colts with young talent starting with his arrival in 1972. On defense he drafted players like Joe Ehrman, Mike Barnes, Bruce Laird, John Dutton, and Fred Cook. Eventually turning the defense into one of the NFL’s best. He stocked the offense with talent also. He selected Bert Jones, Roger Carr, Robert Pratt, and Lydell Mitchell. With these players we won the AFC East for 3 consecutive year, 1975 – 77. But for all the talent he brought in we were never quite good enough to get to the Superbowl.
The trade he made in 1975 is one that he shouldn’t have. The Colts had a chance to draft the best player in the draft and didn’t. We traded the first pick in the draft and a 6th round pick to Atlanta for OT George Kunz and the #3 pick in the 1st round. The trade could have been made for two reasons. First, it was rumored that owner Robert Irsay didn’t want to pay the contract of the first overall selection in the NFL draft. Second, Thomas felt he was getting a good deal and he needed to rebuild the Offensive Line.
If we had kept the pick we could have selected Randy White out of the University of Maryland. He was a 2-Time All American DE at MD. He had just been named ACC Player of the Year and was the winner of both the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award. Randy White could have helped the team as either a defensive end or tackle. In the 1975 playoff game with the Steelers we couldn’t stop the run, Franco Harris ran for 153 yards. In 1976, both starting running backs were out with injuries and Terry Bradshaw threw 3 TD passes. In 1977, I believed we were finally ready to go to the Super Bowl. We just seemed to be a step late in making a big play or stop against Oakland. The Ghost to the Post may have never happened. He would have pushed our defense over the top. We may have rivaled the famous Steel Curtain Defense and could have been talking about more Colts Superbowl victories.
As good as Rand White could have made the Colts, Walter Peyton would have been a better selection for us. The truly sad part is even after we traded away the #1 pick we still could have drafted him! Sweetness had just finished 4th in the Heisman voting, He averaged 6.1 yards per carry for his college career. He had just broken the NCAA scoring records for rushing TDs with 65. He was an All American in both 1973 & 74 also. [Stats from Wikipedia]. He was both stronger and faster than Lydell Mitchell.
Walter Peyton is still the greatest all around running back I’ve ever seen. He could do it all. As a rookie, he could have split time with Lydell in the backfield and returned kicks. After that, we could have used Sweetness as the feature back and Lydell in a Lenny Moore type of role or traded him for offensive line help. Sweetness would have provided help in our playoff runs. He would have been a tough and fearless runner who wouldn’t have backed down from anyone. Who knows what he and Bert Jones could have done together. He would have been the player to keep the fans coming to the Memorial Stadium and maybe, just maybe kept the Colts from moving.