ESPN 30 for 30: Elway to Marino (2013)

Directed by Ken Rodgers / NFL Films

The NFL Draft has become an event unto itself, and a way for crazed fans to stay attentive and attached to their teams even in the off season. It has grown to such proportions that people like Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay make a living off of projecting prospects and teams potential draft choices. The pundits sit on their stage criticizing or celebrating pick after pick when ultimately only time can tell whether a team’s draft night selections were good ones, or bad. There was a time when I might pay attention to the draft, probably when I was in high school and more interested to see who picked up some of my favorite Ohio State Buckeye players, but that time has passed. Nowadays I am lucky to even find out who my team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, selected.

In 1983, however, I believe I may have had somewhat of an interest in the proceedings, but that is, of course, looking back on it with 20/20 vision. The first round of the 1983 draft produced 7, count ’em, 7 Hall of Fame players, including possibly two of the best QBs of all time in John Elway and Dan Marino. But their stories were very different. Elway was the power player, coming off a great season for a mediocre Standford team. Marino was the question mark. After a stellar junior season with Pittsburgh, he saw a decline in his senior year and dropped to be the sixth QB taken in the draft. But what they shared was an agent, and agent who seemingly fell into representing two of the biggest in the history of the game.

My experience with the 30 for 30 series has shown that the films (Once Brothers, Tim Richmond: To the Limit, Four Days in October) handled by NBA Entertainment, NASCAR Media Group and other like-minded production companies have often received some of the harshest criticisms, so with NFL Films being involved here I expected more of the same lackluster documentary style, and that is pretty much what we get here. The buzz about the series has certainly waned from its original days of a new film every Tuesday in celebration of the network’s 30th anniversary, so it is difficult to hear more than applause for a film like this, and that often comes from insiders, like Adam Shefter and Chris Mortensen who really have no other opinion to give than positive. So pretty much each installment brings a new surprise, whether it be a good one or a bad one.

This one was not a particularly good one, though I can’t go so far as to call it bad. There just happens to be zero existence of creativity or inspiration to tell an interesting story or add any color to it. As with most of these documentaries in the series, the story is there already for them. The 1983 NFL Draft is the stuff of legend, yet the focus seems so dead set on telling us a play-by-play of the events leading up to and including draft night that any possible insight, revelation, or even different perspective can be found or given. What seems a worse crime is the film’s decision to focus solely on the two famed quarterbacks with little to no commentary on the other 5 Hall of Fame players taken in the first round. We are supplemented with a Jim Kelly side story, but that merely teased at what appeared to be a more interesting story.

The Elway narrative is a neat story though, not dissimilar to that of Eli Manning. I’m of the era that the Eli Manning draft shuffle is what first comes to mind, but if not for the dealings of Elway, that sort of decision making may not be viewed as acceptable. Heck, when Manning did it there were those who cried foul, but they’re right, they should have somewhat of a choice as to who they play for, just like we have a choice of employment as well. But what intrigued me most about Elway was the temptation of baseball and his talent in that arena. I was unaware he was also a great ballplayer. We get a good insight into what goes on behind the draft, which was a fun ride and made for an interesting viewing, but I just wish they could have gotten away from the blow by blow account of the draft night, or perhaps at lest decided what it wanted to be about because it seemed to want to be about everything, but failed to ever delve into any of its many roads and side stories.

**1/2 – Good


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