Gather around, children. This is a tale of a time long, long ago.

In the year Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Three, Mel Kiper Jr. did not work for ESPN.

Yes, it is so. Mel signed on in 1984.

In this unenlightened era, there were only 10 hours of televised NFL draft coverage. All of it came on Day 1. On Day 2, we played with the dinosaurs in the backyard.

"It's funny how there was no way to keep track of what was going on," said Karl Mecklenburg, the former Gopher who became a Denver Bronco exactly 25 years ago on Sunday. "It wasn't on TV. There were no Sprint phones. No Internet. No crawler. I didn't even know what round it was."

Fortunately, Mecklenburg had a girlfriend named Kathi Northfield, who 24 years ago became Kathi Mecklenburg.

"She could see I was getting a little upset," Mecklenburg said. "So she made me a margarita."

A strong one. Good night, Karl.

The phone inside Mecklenburg's Minneapolis apartment finally rang late that night. It was the Broncos calling to say they had selected Mecklenburg in the 12th round with the 310th overall pick.

"It was the Broncos' secretary, a gal named Jenny Anne," Mecklenburg said. "I think [coach] Dan Reeves had gone home and let his secretary make the pick."

Mecklenburg played 12 seasons for Denver. He went to six Pro Bowls and ranks second in franchise history with 79 1/2 sacks.

He also wouldn't have been drafted in today's seven-round format. The same goes for fellow Class of '83 standouts Richard Dent (eighth round, 203rd overall), Mark Clayton (eighth round, 223rd overall), Tim Krumrie (ninth round, 276th overall) and former Vikings receiver Anthony Carter, who was the 334th of 335 players selected, mainly because he had signed with the USFL.

"Player after player went off the board that year and ended up having very good careers," Mecklenburg said. "Maybe there was something in the water back in 1960 when all of us were born."

The 1983 draft is commonly referred to as the Quarterback Class of 1983. That's a disservice to the best overall draft in NFL history.

Yes, there were six quarterbacks taken in the first round. Yes, three of them -- John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino -- are in the Hall of Fame. But so are three other first-rounders from that year: running back Eric Dickerson, guard Bruce Matthews and cornerback Darrell Green, the last pick of the first round. Nine other first-rounders became Pro Bowl players, including Vikings defensive back Joey Browner, the 19th overall pick.

Henry Ellard (32nd overall), Leonard Marshall (37th), Darryl Talley (39th) and Roger Craig (49th) were among the second-round selections. Albert Lewis, Dave Duerson and Charles Mann were taken in the third round, Reggie Roby in the sixth, Craig James in the seventh ...

Mecklenburg will be remembered as one of the greatest linebackers in Broncos history, which isn't bad for a guy who played a mean nose tackle in college but still wasn't invited to the NFL scouting combine.

"What happened is the first combine scout came to Minnesota and measured me at 6-1, even though I'm 6-4," Mecklenburg said. "So most teams thought I was a 6-1, 245-pound nose guard who runs a 4.9 40. I can see why I slipped to the 12th round."

Like every other year, no one had a clue as to how good the Class of '83 would become. If they had, Marino wouldn't have been selected 27th overall, three spots behind Ken O'Brien, 12 behind Tony Eason and 20 behind Todd Blackledge.

At worst, Marino should have gone to the Steelers at No. 21. Terry Bradshaw was a year from retirement, and Marino had played college ball right under the Steelers' noses at Pitt! Yet 25 years ago today, the Steelers drafted Texas Tech defensive tackle Gabriel Rivera instead.

"The draft is impossible to predict because so much is based on height, weight and 40 time," Mecklenburg said. "A lot of us have proven over the years that football is much more than height, weight and 40 time. I played defensive end my first two years in Denver. The 10th game of my third season, I played linebacker in a game for the first time at any level. Six games after that, I made the Pro Bowl as a linebacker. Who could have predicted that?"

Mark Craig •