One of the most closely followed events in sports is the pro football draft which is held annually to determine which newly eligible players will play for which NFL teams. It was created in 1936 to create a competitive balance among the teams. Today the NFL Scouting Combine tests and rates college players' talent on everything from the obvious drills like the 40 year dash and broad jump to an intelligence test and something called the three-cone drill, which appears to test the player's ability to negotiate a gauntlet of the three avaricious agents--Sam Cone and his brothers, Morrie and Irv.
As we all know, some general managers are better evaluators of talent than others. The best example is the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970's who were notable for their prowess in selecting the best players in the draft.
Their initial 1936 draft was a Comedy of Errors
when they selected, in the first round, All-American halfback William Shakespeare (his real name) from Notre Dame. That became more of a Midsummer Night's Dream
because he never played in the NFL. However, it became Much Ado About Nothing
when the Steelers chose superior players in subsequent drafts. Instead of becoming the next William Shakespeare, he became a war hero and later the president of a rubber manufacturer in Cincinnati. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
The Steelers hit the jackpot in the 1974 draft when they selected receiver Lynn Swann in Round 1, linebacker Jack Lambert in Round 2, receiver John Stallworth in Round 4 and center Mike Webster in Round 5. All were later elected to the Hall of Fame. No other team ever selected more than 2 Hall of Famers in a single draft. The 1970 Steelers (who won 1 and lost 13 the previous season) chose future Hall of Famers in quarterback Terry Bradshaw in Round 1 and defensive back Mel Blount in Round 3. Other Hall of Fame draft choices by the Men of Steel included tackle Mean Joe Greene in
1969, linebacker Jack Ham in 1971 and running back Franco Harris in 1972. Not surprisingly, the Steelers won 4 Super Bowls in the 1970's. All's Well That Ends Well.
The Chicago Bears' best draft came in 1965 when they selected superstars Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers with the third and fourth picks in the first round. With those guys picked third and fourth, one must wonder who was considered better and selected ahead of them. The NY Giants selected the forgettable, often injured running back Tucker Fredrickson first, and the SF 49ers picked journeyman running back Ken Willard second. Even with legends like Butkus and Sayers on the field, the Bears never had much of a supporting cast playing alongside them, and suffered several losing seasons in the late 1960's and 1970's.
You might like to know which Hall of Fame players were not rated high out of college and were chosen in the late rounds of the draft or not drafted at all.
Undrafted Hall of Famers included Oakland defensive back Willie Brown from Grambling; defensive back Dick "Night Train" Lane from Scottsbluff Junior College by way of the U.S. Army (see KENSUSKINREPORT, Sept. 24, 2007); the great Miami Dolphins guard Larry Little from Bethune Cookman College; quarterback Warren Moon from Washington; Browns' running back Marion Motley from South Carolina State; the great Giants' safety Emlen Tunnell from Toledo University; and Green Bay Packers safety Willie Wood from USC. What they all have in common is they are African-American, and received little recognition in college, perhaps because of that. Several came from historically black colleges. Once major colleges began recruiting black players, it became much more difficult to discover overlooked, but talented players.
Some other Hall of Famers selected late in the draft include: Dallas Cowboys' tackle Rayfield Wright from Fort Valley State was selected in Round 7 in 1967; Houston Oilers defensive back Ken Houston from Prairie View A & M was selected in Round 9 the same year. The Cleveland Browns running back Leroy Kelly, from Morgan State was selected in Round 8 in 1964. The Cardinals tight end Jackie Smith from Northwestern (LA) State, was selected in Round 10 in 1963. The 1961 draft featured Rams defensive end David "Deacon" Jones of South Carolina State in the 14th round.
In the 1958 draft, one finds John "Ace Hardware" Madden, a tackle from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, going in the 21st round, the 244th player picked. Its questionable whether he would have made the all-Madden team. The 1956 draft featured the great Packers' duo--defensive end Willie Davis of Grambling in the 15th round and the great quarterback Bart Starr in the 17th. Starr's Alabama Crimson Tide team lost all 10 games his senior year.
One year earlier saw the legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas of Louisville drafted by the Steelers in the 9th round. He was traded to Baltimore where he teamed up with receiver Raymond Berry who was drafted in the 20th round in 1954.
Among non-Hall of Fame players in the drafts, my personal favorite was wide receiver Fair Hooker (actually Fair A. Hooker Jr.) from Arizona State, drafted by the Cleveland Browns in Round 5 in 1969. A dangerous wide receiver, he played 6 seasons for the Browns, catching 129 passes for 8 touchdowns and no fumbles. Hooker's other claim to fame was being traded to New Orleans for someone named Jubilee Dunbar
in 1974. Hooker later became a bank Vice President in Los Angeles, and I'm sure he had good name recognition. When Fair Hooker calls, most people return the call.
Another favorite of mine was Jack "Mad Dog" O'Billovich, a fearsome linebacker from Oregon State who was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 11th round in 1966. Despite his awesome nickname, the only ones "Mad" were the angry fans, as he played only briefly for the Lions and for the Hamilton Tiger Cats in Canada. His career was cut short by injuries, and he died young, at age 53.
There are many other great names of players drafted, but our space is limited. As all football fans know, hope springs eternal every year in the draft as your favorite team dreams of picking the next Johnny Unitas or Bart Starr, or even Tom Brady (6th round from Michigan) in the late rounds.