Commissioner Roger Goodell will walk onto the stage at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago on Thursday night to announce the Los Angeles Rams’ choice of quarterbacks for the first selection in the 2016 NFL draft:
Jared Goff of California or Carson Wentz of North Dakota State?
The chosen quarterback will make his way to the stage, have a Rams jersey handed to him and exchange smiles, handshakes and perhaps even a hug with Goodell — a ritual that continues even as Goodell has established himself as a devoted enemy of the players.
This will be the official start of a three-day extravaganza that has been preceded by incredible amounts of publicity, going back to 2016 mock drafts released within hours of the conclusion of the 2015 draft.
It was not always thus, folks.
Tulane running back Tommy Mason was the first choice in the 1961 NFL draft and also the first-ever choice for the Vikings, the expansion team that would become the league’s 14th member when training camp started in July 1961 in Bemidji.
Mason died on Jan. 22, 2015, at age 75. In researching Mason’s six seasons with the Vikings, we took a look at the level of hysteria in the Minneapolis newspapers over the fact our new team was getting the first pick.
My assessment would be that the Morning Tribune, in particular, exercised restraint.
The first day of the 1961 draft was held on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 1960, at the Warwick Hotel in Philadelphia. This came one day after the Philadelphia Eagles (and quarterback Norm Van Brocklin) defeated Green Bay 17-13 in the NFL Championship Game.
The NFL was in its second year of competition for players with the eight-team American Football League. The AFL had held a six-round draft in November to try to get a jump start on making deals with college seniors, then concluded its draft in December.
Most of the well-regarded collegians were waiting to be drafted by both leagues, in order to play the teams against one another. Still, the NFL had to be wary of using its early selections on players who already had cut backroom deals with the AFL.
One more factor in the Morning Tribune’s restrained coverage of the Vikings’ first draft:
The Gophers were in Pasadena, Calif., that week as Big Ten champions and the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, getting ready to play in the Rose Bowl for the first time.
Gophers football was at the zenith of its popularity. The Vikings were more of a concept. The name had been announced on Sept. 27, precisely three months before the first draft.
There was also the problem with what newspaper people still call “space” — in this case, the amount of the news hole in the print edition devoted to sports. On a Tuesday after Christmas, sports coverage was found on pages 14 through 16 in a one-section newspaper.
Newspaper pages were divided into eight narrow columns, rather than the somewhat wider six columns that have been used for several decades. The advance story for the draft on Tuesday morning occupied the top of page 16, three columns on the left.
The headline read: Vikings Draft View Clouded. There was an overline in smaller type with caps that read: NFL HUDDLES TODAY.
The headline could have been four columns, but the layout editor chose to break up the top of the page with a one-column, two-paragraph box with this news bulletin:
MINNEAPOLIS MAN SCORES QUICK ACE
There was a Hollywood, Fla. dateline, and the information that Perry Richmond of Minneapolis had recorded a hole-in-one at the Diplomat Hotel’s new par-3 course only five days after it had opened.
It wasn’t revealed if any individual on the Morning Tribune staff might be a buddy of Perry’s to get something this obscure into the sports section at the expense of two more paragraphs devoted to the Vikings’ first-ever participation in the NFL draft.
As it was, there was a non-bylined, four-paragraph advance story with a Philadelphia dateline. The article started with speculation that General Manager Bert Rose’s No. 1 overall choice would be Mason, UCLA quarterback Bill Kilmer, Pittsburgh end Mike Ditka or Auburn tackle Ken Rice.
The Morning Tribune’s 1960 version of a mock draft was preceded by this: “Some of the top college players available include …” The paper’s list included a Georgia quarterback “Frank Tarkington” (perhaps an ancestor of Booth). Instead, we got the one named Fran Tarkenton in the third round, and that worked out well.
Long ago, the Vikings snatched Mason at No. 1 overall, in the bad old days of draft coverage.
“Or good old days, depending on your viewpoint,” said Mark Craig, the crusty and exceptional Vikings writer with Star Tribune mock draft duties in this era of crazed NFL draft coverage.