After months of endless debate, hype and 40-yard dash times, the 2017 NFL draft finally kicks off Thursday night from Philadelphia and a wild, unpredictable first round is expected. But it's doubtful we'll see any moments, stories or moves as odd as the ones below. Here are 15 ridiculous things you didn't know about the NFL draft.
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The Rams and Steelers fight for the last pick
In 1979, the Steelers and the Rams, the two Super Bowl teams from earlier in the year, held the last two picks in the draft but kept passing on their selections because they each wanted the chance to draft the celebrated Mr. Irrelevant. After a number of back-and-forths, Pete Rozelle ordered Los Angeles to make the pick and instituted the "Salata Rule," (named after the Mr. Irrelevant founder) which dictated that a team with the last pick must use it as the final pick. Interestingly, the Rams would also spend much of the next 38 years fighting against irrelevance.
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The NFL draft was created because the Eagles were sick of losing to the Redskins and Giants
Well, it started for many reasons but when the draft's founder, Eagles owner Bert Bell, was laying out his ideas for the annual selection of college players, he used Philadelphia's lowly status as one of the reasons.
“Gentlemen, I’ve always had the theory that pro football is like a chain. The league is no stronger than its weakest link and I’ve been a weak link for so long that I should know. Every year the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Four teams control the championships, the Giants and Redskins in the East, and the Bears and Packers in the West. Because they are successful, they keep attracting the best college players in the open market—which makes them successful. Here’s what I propose [to change that]."
He then gave his plans for the draft. It didn't work, at least not at first. The NFL champion in the first 10 seasons after the institution of the draft were either: New York, Washington, Chicago or Green Bay.
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And starting, at quarterback, No. 8, John Wayne
In the 17th round of the 1972 draft, Falcons coach and former star quarterback Norm Van Brocklin stood up and yelled "do we want the roughest, toughest S.O.B. in the draft?" Everyone yelled "yes," followed by Van Brocklin calling the NFL and saying Atlanta was picking John Wayne of Fort Apache State. Yeah, that John Wayne. Back before his acting career, when he was named Marion Morrison, he played football at USC. At the time of his "drafting" he was 64 years old. Fort Apache State is a nod to Fort Apache, a classic Wanye western that also starred Henry Fonda and Shirley Temple. (It’s awesome.) Alas, Pete Rozelle spoiled the fun and disallowed the pick, pilgrim.
The Freewheelin' George Allen
More Redskins shenanigans: In 1971 coach George Allen traded the club's 1973 first-round draft choice to the Jets. Then he turned around and dealt that same exact pick to the Rams. He would do the same with second- and third-round picks too. No one noticed. Those trades netted four players who helped the Redskins make their first playoffs in decades. It wasn't until 1972 that Pete Rozelle got wise to Allen's dealings. The Redskins were fined $5,000 and forced to make restitution, which included giving the Jets the team's 1974 first rounder. Rozelle said the actions were "unintentional in nature," proving that he at least had a little sense of humor.
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There used to be far less time for draft analysis (I want to go to there)
For the first four decades of the draft, the event was held in the winter, either just after the end of the college football season or, later on, just after the end of the NFL season. It wasn't until 1976 that the customary springtime date was adapted.
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Barry Sanders was the first junior allowed in the draft
Juniors only became eligible for the NFL draft in 1990. But Barry Sanders had been drafted in 1989 and still had a year left of eligibility when he was. How did Sanders become the first junior allowed in the draft? Oklahoma State was going on probation and the NFL allowed Sanders to forego his senior season as a result. (It worked out okay for him.)
The No. 1 pick used to be awarded as a random bonus
From 1947-58, the NFL instituted a "bonus pick" that awarded the first pick of the draft to a team that won a random lottery (in addition to whatever other pick they held). The questionable system ensured that every team would pick first every 12 years and was mercifully discontinued after the first cycle. The 12 picks were largely made of no-names except for Chuck Bednarik and Paul Hornung, both of whom ended up being one of the biggest stars in the game and Hall of Famers.
The sportswriter who integrated the Redskins (temporarily)
Seven years after the rest of the league had integrated, the Washington Redskins finally added future Hall of Famer Charley Taylor (among others) to the team in 1962. The driving force behind George Preston Marshall's decision was a threat from the Kennedy administration that said Washington must integrate before playing in D.C. (now RFK) Stadium, which is located on federally controlled land and therefore is governed by federal law that bans employee discrimination. (If the 'Skins ever move back to D.C., changing the team's controversial nickname could be a part of the deal for similar reasons.) But 10 years earlier, Washington sportswriter Mo Siegel said he surreptiously integrated the Redskins when Marshall allowed him to make a late pick in the 30-round draft of 1952. With that pick, Siegel told the team to select Tennessee Tech's Flavious Smith and then surprised Marshall by telling him he'd just integrated the Redskins. There's no record of that pick ever happening (perhaps Marshall had it stricken) but it wouldn't have mattered anyway. Smith was actually white.
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The NFL used to hire babysitters to watch draft picks
In the height of the AFL-NFL rivalry, the league created a babysitting program (actually called "Operation Hand-Holding") that was designed to cultivate relationships with college players who would soon be deciding which league to enter. The babysitters were paid either $50 per day or given a gift (it was a radio one year and a silver Tiffany platter another) to keep tabs on players or, in some cases, hide them from the AFL.
When there used to be an actual draft, the NFL draft had to change its name
During World War II, the NFL stopped calling the draft "the draft." It was instead referred to as the "preferred negotiations list." And, as it would be for the next 20 years, the draft was so big and unwieldy that players sometimes didn't know they'd been picked. The Eagles, for instance, drafted a player in the 18th round of the 1944 draft. He never reported to camp because it took him a while to find out - 55 years.
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The first-ever pick in the draft passed up football for rubber
The first-ever pick in the draft was halfback Jay Berwanger, who won the first Heisman Trophy while at football powerhouse Chicago, as in "the University of." After demanding about $1,000 per game from the Eagles (they offered $125, most players got $50), Berwanger was traded to the Bears, where he promptly asked for a two-year, $25,000, no-cut contract. After shaking hands with George Halas, he walked away from football. After the war, Berwanger founded a rubber company that made the little strips of plastic found on car doors, car trunks and farm machinery. It was grossing $30 million per year when he sold it in 1992.
The Redskins are incompetent: Part 1 of many
In a harbinger of front-office incompetence to come, the Washington Redskins drafted UCLA running back Cal Rossi with the ninth pick of the 1946 draft. He was still a junior. Undeterred, the Redskins selected him with the fourth pick in the 1947 draft. That was when they found out Rossi never intended to play football and had enlisted in the Navy instead.
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The bromance between Bill Belichick and Andy Reid
In 2011, the Patriots and Eagles made one of the odder trades in NFL draft history: They swapped picks No. 193 and No. 194 for no apparent reason. Why? Since Bill Belichick arrived in New England in 2000, he and Andy Reid had made a draft trade every year. This one kept the streak alive. Those dealings ended in 2013, three months after Reid was fired by the Eagles. Belichick and Reid haven't made a deal since Reid became coach of the Chiefs.
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First round pick? It matters.
How much does draft positioning matter? Though the Tom Bradys, Kurt Warners, Dak Prescotts and Shannon Sharpes of the world (not to mention the Heath Shulers, JaMarcus Russells and Johnny Manziels) suggest it doesn't, when it comes to turning into a superstar, the first round (or second) is the only place to go.
Of the 26 players in the Super Bowl era to make six or more All-Pro teams, all but one were first- or second-round picks. The one who wasn't: Punter Shane Lechler who went in the fifth round and, again, is a punter. (And of those 25 players, 20 went in the first.) Switch the criteria to the players with the Approximate Value (as determined by Pro Football Reference) and it's 23 of the top 24 players who were taken in the first 32 picks. That Brady guy is the obvious outlier.
That time the Bucs took the wrong player
In 1982, with time running out in the draft spot, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers handed in a card to Pete Rozelle that contained the name of their intended first-round pick. The problem was, that player's name wasn't the one on the card. How did the Bucs select the wrong player?
The team's equipment manager, Pat Marcuccillo, was representing the team in New York and was told to write the names of two players on different cards: Sean Farrell, a Penn State offensive lineman, and Booker Reese, a raw pass rusher from Bethune-Cookman. The Bucs let 14 of the 15 allotted minutes tick away. Years later, Tampa exec Ken Herock recounted to Sports Illustrated what happened next:
“We thought we needed both of those players, but after we mulled it over and discussed it, the selection was to go with Booker Reese. So I told Pat, I said, ‘Listen, Pat, you’ve got two names there.’ I said ‘We’re not going with Sean Farrell, we’re going with Booker Reese. Turn it in.’ But he didn’t hear the Booker Reese part of it because of the noise. He took it that we were going with Sean Farrell and turned it in.’’
Evidently the speaker phones were bad because they're speaker phones and they're still bad in 2017. But don't get it twisted. It wasn't noise that screwed things up, it was Herock SAYING SEAN FARRELL'S NAME when Farrell was completely irrelevant to the instruction being given.Who, when giving an order, offers both options and lets a three-letter adverb be the distinguishing factor between the two.
"Would you like fries with that?"
"Listen, cashier, we've got two options here. I'm not going with fries because I'm gonna go with no fries."
Once the Bucs realized the screw-up, they tried to convince the league to give them a redo. It wasn't allowed. The story takes many twists and turns from there but the gist: Drafting the wrong guy didn't work out too well.