Early in “Elway to Marino,” in ESPN’s 30 for 30, there was a memorable scene.
Right after the Baltimore Colts selected John Elway with the No. 1 pick in the 1983 NFL Draft, Elway held a press conference. As the well-known story goes, Elway and his pops didn’t want any parts of the Baltimore Colts and had made this very clear. Elway was a West Coast kid and wanted to stay in California to play for the Chargers, who were trying to make a draft day deal to move up. So, after the Colts defied his wishes and selected him anyways, the press wanted to know what the post-pick communication was like.
Elway's response: “I said, ‘Mr. [Frank] Kush [Baltimore coach], I don’t want to be a jerk or anything about it, but, uh, we’ve been telling you for months that I’m not gonna play in Baltimore and, right now, you have nuthin’.’”
His expression and demeanor was matter-of-fact – dead eyes, shoulder-shrug and all. “And then I hung the phone up.”
Immediate commotion followed – not gasps, but what sounded closer to reactionary murmuring. Young Elway looked up with a nervous expression, like he was prepping to see a room of reporters engaged in a bunch of “Who does this kid think he is?” chatter. But he soon realized that most of the press corps was more amused than offended at his young hubris. That’s when a knowing, pleased smirk crept out. He was probably thinking, “ Yeah, I did that.”
Interesting reaction from the writers. Get a load of this kid. He told Kush he’s got nuthin’ then hung up on him. Ha. Some kind of S.O.B., huh?
Talk about times changing. Geno Smith played with his phone in the draft greenroom – the universal, go-to move for all of us when we try to manufacture invisibility in public, by the way – and he’s just spent the past two weeks trying to prove to folks he’s got a better attitude than Kanye at the Grammys.
This week, a USA Today headline read “Jets rookie QB Geno Smith denies he’s a diva.”
One exec that observed Smith before the draft told Yahoo! Sports , “His biggest problem is that he doesn't know what he doesn't know. I’m not sure he knows how to take instruction because he pretty much wouldn't listen or talk to our coaches.”
Sounds like a mule, not a diva. Even Nolan Nawrocki’s pre-draft hatchet job painted Smith as more of a sloth than a diva. The diva-narrative took root minutes into the Draft and has dug in ever since. Maybe, however, we’re all overreacting.
According to reports, Smith deluded himself into believing he should be the No. 1 pick – somewhat of a preposterous notion (and the veracity of the report is not above questioning). Smith surely, however, believed he was the best QB in the draft. So, of course, he stewed as he not only went undrafted on the first day, but got leap-frogged by E.J. Manuel. Manuel, by many pre-draft estimations, was as low as a fourth-round prospect.
Diva or disappointed, elite athlete?
There were (again) reports that he was going to take his ball and go home, ducking a second day in the greenroom. The wrong play, but not an unforgivable in-the-moment reaction.
He showed up, though (in a “casual Friday” cream-sweater), and took a hand-in-pocket strut across the stage on to give Commissioner Goodell some weak dap. What, though? Was he supposed to give us a Mateen Cleaves? And let’s be honest, the pelvis-to-pelvis bear hugs these players are giving Goodell are getting out of control. We get how monumental this day is for these young men, but, these days, we have dudes planting their mouths in the cradle of Rog’s neck and doing “the rock” – like sons, back from a stint in Middle East, embracing their fathers.
And why shouldn’t Smith have fired his agents? When you go from a possible top-10 pick (the Eagles, Browns and Bills all expressed serious interest) to a second-rounder, agents shoulder a lot of that blame. Some choose to absolve the agents of responsibility, based on reports of Smith’s unrealistic expectations. Yet, there are myriad stories of agents manipulating their clients’ ways to improved draft stock. And there are myriad stories of agents bungling things. Smith lost millions of dollars in the matter of four hours; so, as Kevin Hart’s daughter said, “ Somebody had to go.”
Nothing about Smith’s recent behavior or decisions seem egregiously diva.
Back to “Elway to Marino.”
Dan Marino, by any rational estimation, is a top-10 all-time QB. He was also highly-touted college QB that entered the ’83 Draft suffering from character questions (was he a coke head?). He fell all the way to end of the first round, the sixth QB selected. In the doc, they show a clip of him giving his thoughts on his new future in Miami.
“I thought I would go a little earlier in the draft, but I didn’t” he said, full of what seemed like genuine diplomacy.
Then a big smile, from the rust-belt native.
“At least I can go down and work on my tan a little bit.”
Now that’s how you react to a draft-slide.
But, who knows what we’d have gotten from Marino had he faced the humiliation of getting passed over by Tony Eason on camera in a green room? And there was no rookie pay scale back then. Marino’s agent Marvin Demoff at least had the opportunity to leverage interest from the USFL to get Marino the contract they original thought they’d get before his freefall.
This diva tag is tired, anyways. And way overused. Beyonce reportedly requires red toilet paper when she’s on tour. Now that’s a diva. Geno Smith is a young man trying to publicly deal with the biggest disappointment of his career. We don’t need to let him off the hook, but we should cut him some slack.