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Columns

July 9, 2012

Former NFL quarterback John Elway considered future while in Oneonta

Only in my boyhood daydreams did I ever have to face such a conundrum concerning my future.

Major League Baseball player, or star NFL quarterback?

It's a good thing I went with "Plan B," when reality set in.

Thirty years ago this summer, a 21-year-old junior from Stanford University was in Oneonta, here to play baseball and think things through.

John Elway had that same conundrum­­, in reality. A star quarterback at Stanford and a candidate for the Heisman Trophy, Elway would be a shoo-in for the first round of the NFL draft in 1983.

On the other hand, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner had his sights on Elway. The Yankees had him as a top draft pick in June 1981, but it wasn't until that fall that they persuaded Elway to sign a contract to play in their farm system, with a first stop in Oneonta. Steinbrenner paid Elway $150,000 for coming to play here.

"It's too early for me to know what decision I'll make," Elway told The Daily Star on July 8, 1982. "There are too many unknowns now. The decision will be tough, but I wouldn't trade it for anything I'll ever have to do."

Elway became a fan favorite. He had been wondering if he could hit a ball out of Damaschke Field since his arrival. With his parents, Jack and Janet Elway, watching from Albert "Sam" Nader's first base box seat, Elway slammed his first home run Wednesday, July 14, helping the Oneonta Yankees win their eighth straight game.

"That was beautiful," Jack Elway, who was head football coach at San Jose State, told his son, the Stanford quarterback, after the game. The father and son would be meeting on the gridiron for opposing teams that fall.

Sam Nader remembered having the Elways as his guest, and recalls how George Steinbrenner then invited John's parents to Yankee Stadium around the same time as their Oneonta visit.

Nader recalled what kind of an arm John Elway had, playing right field.

"A guy on the opposing team would've had a triple, but Elway made a throw from right field and got him out."

"He would've been a major leaguer," Nader said, "but he wouldn't have been the star he became as a quarterback in the NFL."

For Oneonta it was also a memorable year for the Nader family. Suzanne Nader became the general manager for the Oneonta Yankees that season. She was the first woman in that position, and Sam Nader said she was probably the first woman manager in the New York-Penn League.

Suzanne helped Elway with all the calls from the national media about this young sports prospect, among other duties.

Elway played for six weeks in Oneonta before heading back to California to start football practice with Stanford.

"I'm glad that I proved to myself that I can play baseball," Elway said of his improvement as a Yankee hitter upon his departure.

As it was, Herschel Walker edged Elway as the Heisman Trophy winner in 1982. Elway was initially drafted in the NFL in 1983 by Baltimore, but refused to play in that city, attempting to leverage a better deal, possibly with the Yankees. Elway got a better football deal with the Denver Broncos in the end.

We all know how that turned out. As for the Oneonta Yankees in 1982, they lost to Niagara Falls in the NY-PENN championship series.

This weekend: A rally day at Scintilla in Sidney in July 1942.

City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.

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