The NFL's big bang

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 22, 2012 - 10:49 PM

The NFL draft has exploded in popularity and scrutinization in the modern era.

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No expense is spared these days when the annual NFL draft is staged at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Photo: Christopher Szagola, Associated Press

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Once upon a time, in a world far different from ours, professional football drafts were held as people tended to other matters. Players were chosen without fanfare; without hugs from the commissioner; and without the instant analysis of 42 million television viewers with couch sores from watching seven rounds extended over not one but three days.

"My first job in football, I'm 13 or 14 years old and I'm a runner during the AFL draft in the early '60s," said Joe Horrigan, a vice president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "There were 28 rounds or whatever it was. And it was all held in one day, so I'm running the streets of New York at all hours of the morning."

It wasn't exactly glamorous work.

"I'd sit in [AFL Commissioner] Joe Foss' office until teams called their picks in to him," Horrigan said. "Every round, he'd write the picks on a sheet of paper, stick it in an envelope and hand it to me. I'd run over to the Waldorf Astoria to a room with maybe half a dozen newspaper reporters in it. I'd hand them the sheet of paper and, well, that was it."

The NFL wasn't any different. No Chris Berman. No squadrons of former players to break it all down. Heck, there wasn't even a senior version of Mel Kiper Jr.

The draft has come a long way since it was born in 1936. Player evaluation began to evolve in 1963 with a rudimentary precursor to today's scouting combine. Then came the 1970s and a Pittsburgh Steelers team that validated the increased emphasis on the draft by masterfully hand-picking the pieces that would form one of the most dominant dynasties the league has ever seen.

Things were progressing off the field, too. On Sept. 7, 1979, ESPN was launched. A few months later, the network asked then-commissioner Pete Rozelle if it could televise the 1980 draft in its entirety. Rozelle's answer -- "Why would you want to do that?" -- proved that not even a true league visionary could have anticipated this much hype.

Let history show ...

With the third overall pick on Thursday, the Vikings appear to be in a no-lose situation. They'll have the first swing at the best non-quarterback prospect and couldn't possibly lose by filling a need with USC left tackle Matt Kalil, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne or Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon. Right?

Well ...

If the first 76 NFL drafts have taught us anything it's this: Appearances can be deceiving. Not to mention embarrassing when viewed through years of hindsight.

Since 1980, the third pick in the draft has produced Hall of Famers Anthony Munoz (1980), Barry Sanders (1989) and Cortez Kennedy (1990). But No. 3 also has given us some unforgettable flops such as:

• Andre Wadsworth instead of Charles Woodson (4) in 1998.

• Joey Harrington instead of Dwight Freeney (11) and Ed Reed (24) in 2002.

• Gerard Warren instead of LaDainian Tomlinson (5) in 2001.

• Braylon Edwards instead of Aaron Rodgers (24) in 2005.

• Akili Smith instead of Edgerrin James (4), Ricky Williams (5), Torry Holt (6), Champ Bailey (8), Daunte Culpepper (11) and Antoine Winfield (23) in 1999.

"When you're picking, you know you're not always going to be right," Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said. "No one is ever perfect in this business. Everybody makes mistakes. The key is getting to a point where I know I can sit there at the end of the draft and say to myself, 'There is nothing I can think of that I could have done more to be better prepared for the decisions I made.' "

In addition to Spielman, the Vikings have a director of player personnel, a director of college scouting, an assistant director of college scouting, seven college scouts and two personnel consultants -- Paul Wiggin and Jerry Reichow -- with a combined 96 years of NFL experience. They also can walk down the hall and chat with a guy named Bud Grant if the need arises.

In other words, the Vikings have the manpower to handle a detailed scouting process that takes 11 months to piece together before draft day arrives. Most teams do, which certainly wasn't the case on Feb. 8, 1936, when the NFL's nine teams traveled to the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Philadelphia for the first draft.

Berwanger, Shakespeare, Rossi

The first-ever pick was Heisman Trophy winner Jay Berwanger, who never played a down in the league. The Eagles traded him to Chicago, where Berwanger asked Bears owner George Halas for $25,000 over two years. Halas said no, so Berwanger went into the foam- rubber business and also worked as a sportswriter for the Chicago Daily News. Talk about a different era, financially.

The third pick that year was William Shakespeare. No, not that William Shakespeare. This one was a star at Notre Dame. But he, too, never played a down in the NFL, choosing a life in business instead.

A decade later, Cal Rossi was a star running back for UCLA. He also became the perfect illustration for just how inept scouting could be in the early decades of the draft.

"Cal was the only player to be drafted twice," Horrigan said.

Twice?

Yes, twice. After World War II, the Washington Redskins were a team in disrepair under owner George Marshall, who didn't believe in spending money on scouts. In 1946, the Redskins drafted Rossi ninth overall only to discover that Rossi was a junior, which was a problem since only seniors were eligible for the draft.

"George was embarrassed by his stupidity and drafted Cal again the next year," Horrigan said. This time, the Redskins used the fourth overall pick on Rossi.

"The only problem is everyone in the league knew Rossi wasn't going to play pro ball," Horrigan said. "Everybody, except the Redskins."

Rossi, a top-10 pick two consecutive years, not only never played a down in the NFL, he never even intended to. Somewhere, JaMarcus Russell has to feel a little better.

"There were a lot of misses back then because teams had one, maybe two scouts to cover every school in the country," said Hall of Famer Jack Butler, who played cornerback for the Steelers (1951-59) before becoming a scout for the team and the director of the league's first scouting service.

There was no Internet to rank every player in the country. No up-to-the-microsecond tweets of information. No pro days. No combine. And only a handful of games were televised. After television was invented, of course.

"It was a tremendous expense to scout college players," Butler said. "A lot of teams just didn't have the money to visit every player or bring in every player to see their doctors. That's when we decided something had to be done to improve the process."

Butler helped form the first multi-team scouting service in 1963. Three teams joined together to form what was called LESTO (Lions, Eagles and Steelers Talent Organization). The Bears joined in 1964, giving the organization its current name, BLESTO.

It didn't take the Bears long to cash in. A year after joining the group, they had the third and fourth overall picks in the 1965 draft. They used the third pick on Dick Butkus and the fourth pick on Gale Sayers.

Not a bad day in the league's 77-year history of teams struggling to pick the studs instead of the duds.

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Houston 2 FINAL
St. Louis 5
Washington 9 FINAL
Atlanta 8
Miami 5 FINAL
Boston 3
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
NY Yankees 4 FINAL
Philadelphia 1
Baltimore 4 FINAL
Toronto 5
Detroit - LP: J. Mantiply 4 FINAL
NY Mets - WP: C. Torres 5
Cincinnati 5 FINAL
Chicago Cubs 2
Los Angeles 10 FINAL
Milwaukee 1
San Francisco 12 FINAL
Texas 3
Chicago WSox 0 FINAL
San Diego 5
Kansas City 11 FINAL
Cleveland 9
Seattle 4 FINAL
Los Angeles 7
Colorado 0 FINAL
LA Angels 3
Oakland 7 FINAL
Arizona 2
Pittsburgh 0 Top 1st Inning
NY Yankees 0
Chicago 6:00 PM
Indiana
Sacramento 6:00 PM
Orlando
Utah 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Miami 6:00 PM
Washington
Toronto 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Cleveland 6:30 PM
Atlanta
Boston 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Detroit 7:00 PM
Houston
LA Lakers 7:00 PM
Memphis
Phoenix 7:00 PM
Brooklyn
Denver 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Dallas 9:30 PM
Golden State
Columbus 0 1st Prd 19:35
New Jersey 0
Minnesota 0 1st Prd 19:10
Carolina 0
Buffalo 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 6:30 PM
Detroit
Edmonton 7:30 PM
Chicago
Pittsburgh 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Longwood 68 FINAL
Char Southern 60
Ark-Pine Bluff 94 FINAL
Miss Valley St 75
Southern Ill 45 FINAL
Wichita State 56
Winthrop 67 FINAL
Radford 66
Evansville 67 FINAL
Illinois State 71
Towson 36 2nd Half 16:33
Elon 37
Gardner-Webb 40 2nd Half 15:30
High Point 41
Samford 36 2nd Half 18:17
UNC Greensboro 43
Northern Ill 6:00 PM
Ball State
Bowling Green 2 1st Half 19:05
Buffalo 0
Brown 7 1st Half 17:03
Dartmouth 0
Toledo 0 1st Half 16:41
Eastern Mich 5
Akron 9 1st Half 15:11
Kent State 10
Ill-Chicago 3 1st Half 16:21
Oakland 8
Miami-Ohio 6:00 PM
Ohio
Columbia 0 1st Half 18:35
Penn 0
Cornell 6 1st Half 15:43
Princeton 7
Central Mich 6:00 PM
Western Mich
Bradley 0 1st Half 20:00
Northern Iowa 0
Morehead State 6:30 PM
Murray State
UNC-Asheville 7:00 PM
Coastal Carolina
Yale 7:00 PM
Harvard
Furman 7:30 PM
Citadel
Coll of Charleston 7:30 PM
Drexel
Texas Tech 8:00 PM
Baylor
Pacific 8:00 PM
San Francisco
Detroit 8:30 PM
Cleveland State
Belmont 8:30 PM
Eastern Ky
Loyola-Chicago 8:35 PM
Indiana State
Loyola Marymount 10:30 PM
Santa Clara
Chicago 9:00 PM
Los Angeles
Saint Louis 63 FINAL
(21) George Washington 77
Wake Forest 68 FINAL
(16) Duke 77
Furman 55 FINAL
(17) Chattanooga 68
Monmouth 61 FINAL
Quinnipiac 82
Michigan State 60 FINAL
(4) Maryland 70
Belmont 65 FINAL
UT Martin 71
Arkansas 36 FINAL
(3) South Carolina 58
Mercer 56 FINAL
East Tenn St 66
Richmond 45 FINAL
Fordham 46
Miami-Florida 61 FINAL
(2) Notre Dame 77
Siena 61 FINAL
Iona 71
Washington St 48 FINAL
(9) Arizona State 67
Ark-Pine Bluff 63 FINAL
Miss Valley St 51
(23) Rutgers 57 FINAL
(24) Northwestern 62
Tennessee St 71 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 59
Loyola Marymount 50 FINAL
Gonzaga 70
(18) Texas A&M 65 FINAL
LSU 71
Cincinnati 76 FINAL
UCF 66
Saint Josephs 61 FINAL
Dayton 80
UCLA 62 FINAL
(19) Stanford 67
Santa Clara 40 2nd Half 1:26
San Diego 49
Virginia Tech 17 2nd Half
(7) Florida State 41
SMU 27 2nd Half
Memphis 37
Lehigh 49 2nd Half 15:25
Holy Cross 24
USC Upstate 6:00 PM
Northern Ky
Lipscomb 6:00 PM
Stetson
Nebraska 6:00 PM
(14) Iowa
Lafayette 6:00 PM
American Univ
Colgate 6:00 PM
Army
Dartmouth 6:00 PM
Brown
Penn 6:00 PM
Columbia
(13) Princeton 6:00 PM
Cornell
Rhode Island 0 1st Half 19:08
Duquesne 2
North Florida 0 1st Half 17:45
(20) Fla Gulf Coast 8
Kennesaw St 0 1st Half 19:28
Jacksonville 3
Saint Peters 0 1st Half 18:05
Marist 5
Navy 3 1st Half 18:51
Bucknell 3
Georgia 4 1st Half 17:37
(5) Tennessee 2
Kansas 3 1st Half 16:22
Kansas State 4
Harvard 10 1st Half 15:45
Yale 4
(15) North Carolina 7:00 PM
(10) Louisville
San Jose St 7:00 PM
UNLV
Houston 7:00 PM
Tulane
Utah State 8:00 PM
Colorado State
Colorado 8:00 PM
(8) Oregon State
New Mexico 8:00 PM
Wyoming
Minnesota 8:25 PM
Ohio State
(12) Kentucky 8:25 PM
(11) Miss State
San Diego State 8:30 PM
Nevada
Niagara 8:30 PM
Fairfield
Texas Tech 8:30 PM
West Virginia
Boise State 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Washington 10:30 PM
California
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
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