NFL 2021 — NFL Pre-Draft Discussion

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A11dAtP0w3R

Enjoying my teams losses more than I should 😙
Oct 18, 2013
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Carolina Panthers. Zach Wilson.
Rumors (likely unfounded) that the Niners traded up to #3 to draft Kyle Pitts. Theory being theyre built to win now, JimmyG has taken them to SB, Pitts and Kittle a nightmare to defend.
What a stupid rumor. When Jimmy, Kyle and Lynch have all openly said they moved up to draft a qb.
 

A11dAtP0w3R

Enjoying my teams losses more than I should 😙
Oct 18, 2013
43,759
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Melbourne
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Carolina Panthers. Zach Wilson.
The rumour about the Jets taking Fields and Wilson falling into the Niners lap is another I've heard. But that doesn't make sense either given the Niners have been doing all these second pro days with every QB but Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence.

Niners fans reaching.
 

A11dAtP0w3R

Enjoying my teams losses more than I should 😙
Oct 18, 2013
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Carolina Panthers. Zach Wilson.
Ssss Sss Ss Systems Sirianni was cringy enough then he says and does this... Good lord 😂 ..when Roseman is laughing at your answer you know its terrible.

 

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AmericanCrow

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Another example of trying to be the smartest guy in the room. Despite a certain other fan’s blind belief that accumulating future draft picks is wonderful and that the Browns FO is always amazing—it is the surest way possible to remain a loser.

When you pick inside the top 10 it most assuredly is because:

YOUR TEAM S@CKS!!!

It would behoove oneself to select players capable of impacting the game.

Julio Jones impacted the game.

Asinine at the time and remains so today
 

GG.exe

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Another example of trying to be the smartest guy in the room. Despite a certain other fan’s blind belief that accumulating future draft picks is wonderful and that the Browns FO is always amazing—it is the surest way possible to remain a loser.

When you pick inside the top 10 it most assuredly is because:

YOUR TEAM S@CKS!!!

It would behoove oneself to select players capable of impacting the game.

Julio Jones impacted the game.

Asinine at the time and remains so today
I totally agree with you. Grab an elite player where you are. GMs get too cute. All the million trades Belichick has done and he absolutely sucks at drafting, has never turned those cute accumulations into anything of substance. Sitting there and taking a player is best BUT you also have to have a GM who listens to his scouts and can pick a good player. So many teams have sat there and reached or picked the wrong player. Eg, Raiders taking Ferrell instead of Allen...DEs after they got rid of Mack
 

GG.exe

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Surely not....


Justin Fields is not among the 13 players slated to attend the NFL Draft in Cleveland next week.
Meanwhile, Trey Lance, Mac Jones, and Zach Wilson will be in attendance for the draft, which starts April 29. Presumed No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence won't be at the draft. Fields' absence could mean nothing, though he profiles as a player who could slip down the draft board. It seems fantasy managers are higher on Fields than NFL front office decision makers. The 49ers, after months of sending coaches and officials on QB "fact finding" missions, look to be leaning toward Jones or Lance with the draft's third pick. Ja'Marr Chase, Kyle Pitts, Devonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle are the other offensive players who will attend the draft.
RELATED:
SOURCE: Adam Schefter on Twitter
Apr 23, 2021, 9:15 AM ET
 

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GG.exe

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LSU's Ja'Marr Chase is the first unanimous top wide receiver prospect in Bob McGinn's poll of draft evaluators since Calvin Johnson in 2007.
Kyle Pitts, to no one's surprise, was the unanimous top tight end prospect in McGinn's polling of longtime NFL Draft evaluators. No one since Megatron -- when he was coming out of Georgia Tech -- has been the unanimous No. 1 wideout, and only one receiver -- Michael Crabtree -- has come within one vote of being unanimous. “Chase is one of the best wide receivers in the last 10 years,” a longtime NFL scout told McGinn, who's written an NFL Draft series for 37 years. “He’s as strong as one of those big tight ends. He just goes and takes the ball away. He can take an underneath ball and go 80 yards. He can just run right by you and catch it 60 yards downfield. He’s built like a fullback almost, but can run like a wide receiver. He’s as good as it gets.” One longtime scout described Chase as a “modern-day Sterling Sharpe." Evaluators who participated in the poll portrayed Chase -- who scored a whopping 20 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2019 -- as a can't-miss prospect. NBC Sports Edge's John Daigle projects Chase to the Bengals with the fifth pick in the draft.
RELATED:
SOURCE: The Athletic
Apr 23, 2021, 1:00 PM ET

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GG.exe

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NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports the Raiders have done "extensive work" evaluating top quarterbacks available in next week's NFL Draft.
We take "top quarterbacks" to mean Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Mac Jones, since Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson are spoken for. Rapoport said if one of the top QBs slides beyond the tenth pick, the Raiders could pounce. There's no universe in which Fields, Lance, or Jones fall to the Raiders at No. 17; Vegas will have to trade up to nab one of the signal callers if they drop out of the top ten. While Rapoport described the potential Raiders QB being a "stash for the future," any of Lance, Fields, or Jones would immediately compete for the team's Week 1 starting job.
RELATED:
SOURCE: Ian Rapoport on Twitter
Apr 23, 2021, 10:52 AM ET
 

GG.exe

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ESPN's David Newton reports the Panthers are "very open" to moving back from the No. 8 overall pick.
Newton writes that the front office has talked to "at least five teams'' about trading back in Thursday's draft. The issue the Panthers and others inside the top-10 will ultimately run into is that every organization is seemingly trying to move back for a bundle of picks if it feels set at quarterback. Carolina still understands that Sam Darnold isn't the long-term answer (though they would never admit that) and are likely entering the draft with an open mind, prioritizing the success of whomever lands there next. That could mean a trade out. Otherwise this saga will come to an end with an offensive tackle or the best available defender coming off the board at No. 8.
SOURCE: David Newton on Twitter
Apr 23, 2021, 1:46 PM ET
 

GG.exe

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NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports the Cowboys are not expected to trade up from the No. 10 overall pick.
Jerry Jones talked openly (as he usually does) about fitting Kyle Pitts into the team's offense, but that always seemed like a pipe dream since it would require far too much draft capital to move up into the top-four selections. The Jones family will be more than happy staying put and taking the best defender available, whether that be Patrick Surtain or Jaycee Horn. Rashawn Slater is also in the mix there if both cornerbacks come flying off the board by No. 10.
SOURCE: Ian Rapoport on Twitter
Apr 23, 2021, 1:46 PM ET
 

GG.exe

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THE FIRST DRAFT

April 24, 2021

The first NFL draft was crude, messy and unfocused. But it ended up changing American sports forever. This is the story of the man who organized it, the players who were drafted and their lasting impact.

By Jim Carr


It
could have easily been mistaken for a stag party instead of a business meeting. Booze was plentiful. Cigar smoke cloaked the room. One man played piano, while another broke into song.

Few knew what the men were up to in that luxury hotel suite. Hardly anyone paid attention when they were done. And, initially, their actions had little impact. Over time, though, the gathering would be recognized as a seminal moment in American sports history, changing the way professional leagues operate and their franchises build rosters.

On February 8, 1936, owners representing the nine National Football League franchises assembled at the swanky Ritz-Carlton Hotel in downtown Philadelphia for their annual two-day league meeting. They met to discuss usual business, like expansion, trades and scheduling. But first on the agenda was a revolutionary process for acquiring college players, something that was threatening to tear the league apart.

Born of desperation, the first NFL draft, then simply called the “selection of players,” lacked sophistication, planning and expertise. The closest thing to scouts there were the teenage son of one owner and the publicity director of another. Fifty-five million people watched last year’s draft on television. A few dozen, nestled inside a suite at the Ritz, witnessed the first one. Major newspapers largely ignored it. Even players that were drafted were oblivious to what was going on. Wally Fromhart, a seventh-round pick from Notre Dame, told the Professional Football Researchers Association, “I didn’t even know they had a draft until I got a letter from the Packers with an offer of $125 a game.”

Bert Bell, the feisty owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and son of the hotel's owner, organized the affair. He had beds and bureaus removed from the suite. A conference table, grand piano and chalkboard, perched on an easel, remained. Yes, the first NFL draft had its own “Big Board,” on which the names of around 80 college seniors had been scribbled in chalk.


NFL owners used periodicals like this one as a major source of information on college stars of the day.

NFL owners used periodicals like this one as a major source of information on college stars of the day.

Determining that draft pool was far from scientific. Owners and coaches recommended players based on what they had gleaned from football periodicals, like Street & Smith’s and Illustrated Football Annual, newspaper stories, All-America lists, media guides and game programs. They also attended a few college games and chatted up coaches they knew, but the notion of scouting in any formal manner was still years away. Likewise, there was little investigation into a player’s interest in even playing pro football. The owners were winging it.

League president Joe Carr announced that each team would select five players but, after seeing all the names on the board, amended the bylaws so they could choose nine apiece.

The Eagles were up first, followed by the Boston franchise, Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and New York Giants. At 1:30 p.m., the “men shucked their jackets,” wrote Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times. “Bottles circulated, solemn oaths of league solidarity were taken, and the college stars were distributed.”


Drowning in a sea of debt

Most of the owners were gamblers, either by profession or inclination. Many were betting their livelihood on the future of professional football, which, at the time, was no sure thing. They needed to find a way to improve their odds. The draft, they felt, gave them that chance.

The franchises were led by a group that included two of the league’s coaches and founding fathers (George Halas of the Bears and Curly Lambeau of the Packers); a laundry owner and avowed racial segregationist (George Preston Marshall of Boston); a radio pioneer (G.A. Richards of the Lions); a 23-year-old iron, steel and tin heir (Dan Topping of the Dodgers); a wealthy lawyer and businessman with ties to Al Capone (Charles Bidwill of the Cardinals); a pair of bookmakers (Tim Mara of the Giants and Art Rooney of the Pirates); and the broke playboy son of a wealthy Philadelphia attorney and hotel owner (Bell).

There were no billion-dollar media rights deals in those days. The first NFL broadcast on network television did not take place until 1939. Only a handful of games were aired on radio in the 1930s because owners feared it would keep fans from attending games in person. So, nearly all team revenue came from ticket sales. And for the most part, the American public wasn’t buying.

Effects of the Great Depression were still being felt across the country. Those that could afford to go to sporting events overwhelming favored horse racing, boxing, baseball and college football. Consider what was happening in New York at the time:

· In June 1935, a mud-covered Omaha won the Belmont Stakes, completing the third-ever Triple Crown. Two years later, War Admiral matched the feat.
· In September 1935, a 21-year-old Joe Louis knocked out former heavyweight champion Max Baer at Yankee Stadium in front of 84,831 spectators, including Babe Ruth, Ernest Hemingway and James Cagney.
· Two months later, Yankee Stadium drew 80,000 fans for Army and Notre Dame’s 6-6 tie and 75,000 for Fordham’s 21-0 blanking of NYU.
· In 1936, Joe DiMaggio made his major league debut, joining forces with Lou Gehrig to deliver the first of four straight World Series titles for the Bronx Bombers.

The NFL was getting lost in the shuffle. In 1935, five of the nine NFL teams drew fewer than 75,000 total fans for all their home games. In the football Dodgers’ season finale at Ebbets Field, only 5,000 hearty souls endured a dreary 0-0 tie against Boston. The following Sunday, just 15,000 fans watched the Lions defeat the Giants in the NFL Championship Game at a snowy University of Detroit Stadium.

Professional teams were hemorrhaging money. Making ends meet was a constant battle.

“In those days, nobody got wealthy in sports,” Rooney said. “You got two thrills. One came on Sunday, trying to win the game. The next came on Monday, trying to make the payroll.”

This was especially true for league’s bottom feeders. The league’s four dominant teams – Bears, Packers, Giants and Boston – attracted all the best players, who, before the draft, were free to sign anywhere they desired.

When Rooney’s Pirates or Bell’s Eagles tried to lure college football's biggest stars, they were almost always outbid. The situation was untenable, for both the haves and have nots. The haves didn’t want to keep paying premium prices for players. The have nots could not compete on the field or at the gate without a more equitable system. All but a few teams were drowning in a sea of debt.

By 1935, Bell had grown increasingly frustrated and offered his fellow owners a life preserver. In order to get to that point, though, he first had to be saved from himself.


Bell’s brainchild

“Bert Bell was born rich and did his best to become poor,” his son, Upton Bell, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He worked his way down the ladder.”

He was born De Benneville Bell but preferred to be called Bert. His father, John C. Bell, was a prominent Philadelphia lawyer who had served as Pennsylvania’s Attorney General. His mother, Fleurette de Benneville Keim Myers, was the aristocratic daughter of a former Congressman. The family lived in a fully-staffed mansion near Rittenhouse Square.

Bell went to the University of Pennsylvania, where his father earned a law degree and played halfback on the football team. Bert's college destination was not up for debate. “He’ll go to Penn or he’ll go to hell!” his father said.


University of Pennsylvania backfield in 1916: quarterback Bert Bell (left), halfback Ben Derr (center), and fullback Joe Berry.

University of Pennsylvania backfield in 1916: quarterback Bert Bell (left), halfback Ben Derr (center), and fullback Joe Berry.

Despite being 5-foot-8 and 155 pounds, Bell started at quarterback for the Quakers. He was named team captain in 1919 after a year of service in the Great War. While passionate about football, he had also developed an insatiable appetite for liquor, gambling and night life. He never lacked the funds to feed his desires.

“My father and mother gave me everything I ever asked for, and I was a pretty good taker,” Bell told W.C. Heinz for a 1955 Saturday Evening Post story.
During his senior year, Bell was so sure Penn would beat Dartmouth that he wagered “all the money I had and could borrow” as well as the expensive Marmon roadster his father had given him. He lost everything when Dartmouth escaped with a 20-19 victory. His father was no doubt upset but kept bankrolling his son until he was finally pushed too far.

Bell’s father offered him $100,000 in exchange for marrying one of his friend’s daughters. Bell, who was coaching at Temple while managing the Ritz-Carlton, his father’s hotel, agreed to the arrangement. But after receiving a portion of the money, he promptly squandered it at Saratoga Race Course and then told his father the engagement was off.

“Well, Bert, if that’s they way you want it, no more money,” John Bell told his son, according to Robert S. Lyons’ biography of Bell, On Any Given Sunday. “You can go run my hotels and do your coaching, or do whatever you want, but that’s the last penny you’re ever going to get from me. You’re not going to see another red cent.”

Bell’s fortunes began to change in 1932 after he met Frances Upton, an actress and Ziegfeld Girl, and fell in love. She felt the same way but wasn’t ready to commit unless he stopped drinking. “So he threw a party in Atlantic City, invited her and announced there that he'd never drink again,” Upton Bell told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “And he never did.”

Frances Upton convinced Bell to join a group of investors interested in buying the bankrupt Frankfort Yellow Jackets, Philadelphia’s lowly NFL franchise, and provided his share of the $2,500 franchise fee. The renamed Philadelphia Eagles began play in 1933. Bell and Upton were married shortly after the season ended.

Bell’s father, who despised pro football, died in December 1935, likely believing his son had made another foolish mistake. The Eagles had just completed a third disastrous season – on and off the field.

The Eagles won just nine times with 21 losses and one tie during the 1933-35 seasons. This club’s bank account was taking an even greater beating than the players on the field. The Eagles lost over $80,000 (about $1.5 million today) during those three years and went bankrupt. The team was put up for auction in 1936. Bell was the lone bidder, paying $4,500 to become sole owner. He then named himself head coach.

What happened after the 1934 season was particularly distressing for Bell. He set his sights on a player he was sure could turn his team around – University of Minnesota fullback Stan Kostka, who one sportswriter dubbed “Stamping Stan the King Kong Man.” After speaking on the phone with Kostka, who said he would play for the top bidder, Bell took a train from Philadelphia to Minneapolis in hopes of closing the deal.

“I knew he had been offered $3,500 and I had a check for $4,000 in my pocket. Of course, the Eagles didn’t have the money. But I had the check,” he chuckled.

Bell met Kostka at a hotel, where he offered the King Kong Man $4,000 to play the 1935 season. Kostka asked for some time to mull the offer, but Bell knew what was really going on.

“When he asked to be excused from the conference, I told Stan I didn’t want him shopping around,” Bell told Chicago Tribune columnist David Condon in 1957. “After telling Stan what I thought, I raised my offer to $6,000. He wanted me to put it writing and give him time to think it over. I wouldn’t do it, so Stan wound up signing for Brooklyn for $4,500.”

After inking the richest contract in pro football history and appearing on a Wheaties box, Kostka played just one season in the NFL yet may have saved the game. His signing with the Dodgers sparked Bell’s imagination.

“I made up my mind that this league would never survive unless we had some system whereby each team had an even chance to bid for talent against the other,” Bell told the AP.

All that was left was selling other owners on his vision for the future. At the league meeting on May 18, 1935, in Pittsburgh, Bell took the floor and made his plea.

“Gentlemen, I’ve always had the theory that pro football is like a chain,” Bell began. “The league is no stronger that 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 [Boston] in the East, and the Bears and Packers in the West. Because they are successful, they keep attracting the best college players on the open market – which makes them successful.

“Here’s what I purpose,” he continued. “At the end of every college football season, I suggest that we pool the names of eligible seniors. Then we make our selections in inverse order of the standings, with the lowest team picking first until we reach the top-ranking team, which picks last. We do this for round after round until we’ve exhausted the supply.”

The proposal passed. Even Halas and Mara, who ran two of the league’s most successful teams, saw the benefits of the new system despite knowing their rosters would likely get watered down.

Fittingly, Bell’s Eagles wound up with the first overall pick in the draft by virtue of a 2-9 record in 1935 that masked just how bad the team really was. The Eagles scored eight touchdowns all season and were shut out four times.

After the Lions defeated the Giants in the NFL Championship Game on December 15, Bell began preparing to host the league’s first draft. His idea, his show, the owners decided. So, he booked a suite at the Ritz-Carlton, the hotel he used to manage for his father. His team would soon get the help it needed, he hoped. But, for Bell’s Eagles, things would only get worse.


Heisman and The Bard

With the first pick, Bell chose Jay Berwanger, University of Chicago's talented halfback. A fierce runner and tackler, Berwanger won the initial Downtown Athletic Club Trophy in 1935. It was renamed the Heisman Trophy a year later after the death of John Heisman, the famous coach who was the club’s athletic director.

President Gerald Ford, who played center and linebacker at the University of Michigan, felt Berwanger’s wrath first-hand in 1934 loss to Chicago.
“Jerry Ford has a scar on his face from trying to tackle my dad,” Berwanger’s son, Cuyler, told the Chicago Tribune. “He told my dad one time, ‘I think of you every morning when I shave.’”

Newspapers around the time of the first draft were reporting than Berwanger wanted $1,000 per game to play pro football, about four times the league average. Realizing he would not be able to afford Berwanger, Bell worked out a trade with Halas, receiving tackle Art Buss in return. Berwanger was not inclined to give Halas a hometown discount. They discussed a contract once, barely, during a chance meeting while Berwanger was on a date.

“I told George Halas the one time I saw him – it wasn't a formal meeting or anything – that I wanted $12,500 [a year] for two years with a no-cut contract,” Berwanger said, according to his 2002 obituary in the Chicago Tribune. “He just wished my date and me a bon farewell.”

Football glory never seemed to interest Berwanger. His Heisman Trophy was used a doorstop by his Aunt Gussie for 15 years. After stiff-arming the Bears, he coached at his alma mater and wrote a sports column for the Chicago Daily News. He then served as Navy flight instructor during World War II and founded a rubber company in suburban Chicago. When he sold it in 1972, it was grossing more than $30 million per year.

Berwanger never played a down in the NFL because he felt he could find a better way to make a living. That would hold true for most of the players chosen in the first draft. Just 31 of the 81 players selected ever played pro football. Bell’s bad luck did not end with Berwanger’s selection. None of his nine picks signed to play for his Eagles.


Nineteen picks after Berwanger, a do-it-all back from NYU named Ed Smith was drafted by Boston. He and Berwanger had a unique connection but neither knew about it for almost 50 years.

The trophy that kept Aunt Gussie’s door propped open all those years was sculpted by Frank Eliscu, who was commissioned in 1934 by the Downtown Athletic Club for the princely sum of $500. Needing a cheap model, he enlisted a boyhood friend – Ed Smith. Over several sessions, Smith posed in full uniform, left arm cradling the football with the right jutting out, fingers stretched to the sky. Smith didn’t know why he was posing. He never asked and Eliscu never told him.

After playing a pair of forgettable seasons in the NFL, Smith went to work for Otis Elevator, installing systems in the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building. It wasn’t until 1982, eight years after he retired from Otis, that Smith learned that he modeled for the famous trophy in American sports. He found out when renowned filmmaker Bud Greenspan contacted him as part of the television production for that year’s ceremony.

“At first I thought it was some kind of crank call,” Smith told Sports Illustrated in 1988. “Then what he was saying sank in. I couldn't believe it. It almost threw me off my feet.”


Another Smith, Riley, a quarterback who led Alabama to the national championship in 1934, was the second overall pick. Unlike Berwanger, Smith was interested in playing football professionally, signing with Boston for $250 per game. “I signed because I wasn’t ready to quit playing ball,” he told the Professional Football Researchers Association in 1983.

Rooney’s Pirates – they wouldn’t become the Steelers until 1940 – picked third and chose one of the most popular college players in the nation. And it wasn’t just because of the halfback’s remarkable name. William Valentine Shakespeare – or Bill as he liked to be called – had thrown the winning touchdown pass to Wayne Millner in the closing seconds of Notre Dame’s 18-13 victory over Ohio State the previous November in a game that would be christened, “The Game of the Century.”

Nicknamed “The Bard of South Bend” and the “The Merchant of Menace,” Shakespeare was a sportswriter’s dream. The week after his heroics against the Buckeyes, Notre Dame played host to Northwestern, who featured an end by the name of Henry W. Longfellow. Sports pages across the country touted, SHAKESPEARE VS. LONGFELLOW, leading up the game. Shakespeare also once met THE Ernest Hemingway, who threw a punch at the former Notre Dame star after he had introducing himself to the writer as “Bill Shakespeare.”

College football stardom would not be Shakespeare’s final act. He chose a sales job with Thor Power Tool over the Pirates' offer before enlisting in the Army, where made the greatest play of his career, one that carried much more significance that his winning pass to Millner.

Shakespeare was a captain with the 424th regiment of the 106th Infantry Division, which was battered during the Battle of the Bulge. During the bloody skirmish, which began on Dec. 16, 1944 and lasted six deadly weeks, he was credited with capturing a German captain of the 116th Panzer Division, who was, according to various accounts, carrying plans to kidnap General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Shakespeare received the Bronze Star for gallantry. He was president of Cincinnati Rubber Manufacturing Co. at the time of his death in 1974.

Most of those that decided to play in the NFL had short careers, ending after a year or two. It wasn’t for lack of talent. Sixteen of the 81 players drafted – nearly 20 percent – were later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. But at the time, the salaries were low and the chance for injury high.
It took a special love for the game to stick with it. Four who did ended up with busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A little luck and some imagination were required to get them there. One was drafted because of the sound of his name. Another was selected on the recommendation of a tenacious college student.


Name game

The four Hall of Famers chosen in the first draft were West Virginia tackle “Jumbo” Joe Stydahar (first round to the Bears), George Washington fullback Alphonse “Tuffy” Leemans (second round to the Giants), Notre Dame end Wayne Millner (eighth round to Boston) and Colgate guard Danny Fortmann (ninth round to the Bears).

George Halas’ selection of Stydahar and Fortmann solidified the left side of a dominant Bears offensive line that kept quarterback Sid Luckman clean and powered the team’s innovative T-formation. The “Monsters of the Midway” won four NFL championships between 1940-46, with Stydahar and Fortmann each winning three titles while also serving in the military during World War II.

On the advice of Bears quarterback Carl Brumbaugh and end Bill Karr, a West Virginia alum, Halas used the sixth overall pick on Stydahar, who at 6-4 and 233 pounds was huge for the era and played without a helmet early in his career. Halas used a decidedly different method to land Fortmann.

By the time the draft reached the ninth round and the 78th overall pick, Halas had exhausted what little intelligence he and PR man Frank Korch had gathered on potential draftees – reports on 14 players – and the chalkboard in the suite showed just two names that hadn’t been erased.

“I saw a name I liked: Danny Fortmann,” he wrote in Halas by Halas, his 1979 autobiography. “It had a good sound. I said, ‘I’ll take Danny Fortmann.’”

Fortmann was 19 years old when he was drafted and packed just 210 pounds on his six-foot frame, making him one of the smallest linemen of his time. That hardly mattered. He was named first team All-Pro in six of his eight seasons. Bears backup quarterback Bob Snyder told the Chicago Tribune in 1942 that Fortmann was “a perfect football player.” It turns out, Fortmann was much more than that.

Never know for his leniency, Halas allowed Fortmann to miss practices and convinced the dean at the University of Chicago’s Rush Medical College to allow his star lineman to play for the Bears while he studied to become a surgeon. Fortmann retired after helping lead the Bears to an NFL championship in 1943, their third title in four seasons, while commuting between Chicago and Pittsburgh, where he was a resident physician at Presbyterian Hospital. After serving on a Navy hospital ship in the Pacific Ocean during the final stages of World War II, he set up his practice in Los Angeles and became the team physician for the NFL’s Rams for 16 years, including three (1950-52) when Stydahar was the head coach.

While Halas’ selection of Fortmann came with no forethought, the same cannot be said for Tim Mara’s decision to draft Leemans. He had an unlikely source of information close to home.

Wellington Mara, Tim’s youngest son, was named after the Duke of Wellington, an Irish-born, 19th-century military hero. When Wellington worked as a ball boy for the Giants in 1925, players began calling him “Duke” and the nickname stuck. Young Mara devoured out-of-town sports pages and started keeping files on college football’s best players. As a junior at Fordham University, he became infatuated with one of them, Tuffy Leemans. The George Washington fullback could seemingly do it all on the football field. Duke made it his mission to ensure he played for his father’s team.


Tuffy Leemans with the New York Giants in 1939.

Tuffy Leemans with the New York Giants in 1939.

Late in 1935, Wellington Mara asked his father if he could go to Washington to see if Leemans would be interested in playing for the Giants the following season. Tim Mara responded, “Tuffy who? I’ve never heard of him,” according to Barry Gottehrer’s book, The Giants of New York. Undeterred, Wellington sent Leemans a telegram to set up a meeting, signing his father’s name. After first being mistaken for an autograph seeker, the precocious teen was able to convince Leemans to play for the Giants.

Tim Mara, with Wellington at his side, heeded his son’s advice and used his second-round pick on Leemans, who signed a $3,000 contract a week later. Leemans led the league in rushing as a rookie and two years later scored the first touchdown in the championship game victory over the Packers.

Years later, Wellington Mara, who oversaw the Giants' football decisions for over 20 years and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said, “If I’m remembered for nothing else, I’d like to be remembered for discovering Tuffy Leemans.” He’s remembered for so much more. In honor of his contributions to the game, “The Duke” is stamped on every official NFL football.

Wellington Mara’s scouting acumen benefitted the entire league. According to John Eisenberg’s book, The League, Wellington showed his father the detailed files on players he had put together for the draft that followed the 1937 season, and the elder Mara insisted that he share his work with the other teams. After some initial resistance, Wellington complied, writing his top 166 prospects on a chalkboard at Chicago’s Sherman Hotel for all teams to see. After the 110th and final pick of that draft, the owners gave him a round of applause.

Owners realized they needed to work together to secure the future of the league. The players, after all, still had leverage because of higher-paying alternatives off the gridiron. Any way owners could get the best players to suit up for an NFL team, any team, would help their cause. They often went to great lengths to secure the services of star players. For one, the decision to play or not came down to a coinflip, literally.


Flipping out

Bob “Horse” Reynolds was a powerful tackle at Stanford, where he set a record by playing every minute of three consecutive Rose Bowls. That was obviously enough football for Horse, who declined to sign with the Packers after they selected him in the sixth round in 1936. Instead, he went to work in the oil business in Texas and Oklahoma, and might have stayed there had G.A. Richards, the Lions owner, not made him an unusual proposition.

Richards offered Reynolds a sales job at KMPC, his Los Angeles radio station, with “no strings attached.” But added, “I think you ought to be a sport about it. I’ll flip a coin. If I call it right you play two years of football for the Lions, and work at KMPC in the offseasons. If you call it right, you don’t have to play football – and you’ve still got the radio job, fair enough?”

Reynold agreed, promptly lost the toss, and then fulfilled his part of the deal. It set him up for life. In 1951, after Richards died, Reynolds and famed entertainer Gene Autry, “The Singing Cowboy,” bought KMPC, which had grown into Southern California’s most powerful radio station, along with some real estate holdings. They started Golden West Broadcasting and later founded the expansion Los Angeles Angels, who joined Major League Baseball in 1961. Reynolds served as the Angels’ president for 15 years and was also vice president of the NFL’s Rams for 10.

Many of those drafted in 1936 did not need games of chance to dictate their futures after playing college football. They already knew where they were going.
LSU’s Abe Mickal and Princeton’s Pepper Constable chose medical school over pro football and became leaders in their field. Harry Shuford eschewed the NFL for law school, graduating first in his class at SMU before coming general counsel for Dr. Pepper (the beverage company not the aforementioned Princeton standout), the president of Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and the chairman of the board of First National Bank of Dallas. University of Idaho’s Theron Ward also chose law school and became a judge in his home state.

Some found their calling a little later in life. Jim “Monk” Moscrip was an All-America end at Stanford before being a ninth-round pick of the Dodgers. He played two seasons in the NFL with the Lions before serving as a lieutenant in the Navy, participating in battles at Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He returned from the war a broken man, trapped in the grip of alcoholism. He turned his life around while helping others like him as the manager of an alcohol rehabilitation center in Woodside, Calif., for nearly 25 years.

Several players who refused to sign contracts were not done with the game of football, finding another way to feed their passion for the sport. Football coaching jobs were plentiful, paid reasonably well and were less likely to result in a broken bone. The life of a coach was appealing to one such man, the 11th child born to Wilson Monroe and Ida Kilgore Bryant of Moro Bottom, Arkansas.

Paul “Bear” Bryant earned his famous nickname as a 13-year-old after he agreed to wrestle a bear at a local theater for one dollar per minute. It didn’t go well. The promoter ran off without paying him and the bear bit his ear. “All I got out of the whole thing was a nickname,” he wrote in his 1975 autobiography. He found far more success on the football field. At Alabama, he was “the other end” opposite Don Hutson, the greatest pass-catcher of his time. Still, Bryant caught enough attention himself to be chosen by the Dodgers in the fourth round of the 1936 draft.

In his autobiography, Bryant said he turned down offers from three NFL teams for between $85 and $170 per game. He did so “partly because I was already into coaching, and partly because I didn’t think I was good enough.” After initially accepting a job on the staff at Union College in Tennessee, he returned to Alabama for $1,250 a year to coach the team’s guards. By the time he retired at the end of the 1982 season, he had won a record 323 games and six national championships. (At that same time, George “Papa Bear” Halas owned the NFL record for coaching wins with 324, including six title game victories.)
Several other 1936 draftees went into coaching. Gomer Jones was head coach and athletic director at Oklahoma. Eddie Erdelatz helmed the Naval Academy football team for nine seasons before being named the first head coach in Oakland Raiders’ history. Art “Pappy” Lewis was interim head coach of the Cleveland Rams as a 27-year-old in 1938 and later won five SEC titles while in charge at West Virginia.


Baby steps

The inaugural NFL draft produced a few Hall of Fame players, one of the greatest coaches of all time, distinguished businessmen, doctors, lawyers and its share of war heroes. What it didn’t do, at least initially, was make pro football markedly better. For much of the decade following the draft, teams that had been losing keep losing and teams that always won continued to do so.

Bert Bell’s Eagles were a prime example. Unable to sign any of the players he drafted, Bell was forced to scour local colleges to stock his roster. The Eagles shocked the Giants, 10-7, in the 1936 season opener but then lost their next 11 games, including six by shutout. Philadelphia won just twice the following year.

Beginning with the first NFL Championship Game in 1933 through 1946, only twice did teams other than the Bears, Giants, Packers or Boston/Washington play for the title. The Lions and Rams, who won championships in 1935 and 1945, respectively, were the outliers.

The draft did not begin to even the playing field until around the time Bell was named the league’s commissioner in 1946. From 1947 through 1955, none of the four previous heavyweights made it the championship game. Not coincidentally, that time frame corresponded with the reintegration of the NFL.
A few Black players suited up when the league was formed in 1920. Hall of Famer Fritz Pollard even became the league’s first Black coach in 1921. But for 12 years, from 1934 to 1945, there were no Black players in the league. George Preston Marshall, whose franchise moved from Boston to Washington in 1937, was vocal about his disdain for an integrated NFL, and other owners, whether they agreed with him or not, fell in line.

Black players didn’t return to the league until the Cleveland Rams moved west in 1946 and were required to integrate in order to play at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. So, the club signed UCLA stars Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, who both played in the NFL one year before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier.

Still, it would take three more years for the NFL to begin selecting Black players in their annual draft. The first was Indiana University halfback George Taliaferro, who was chosen by the Bears in the 13th round in 1949. But he signed with the Los Angeles Dons of the rival All-American Football Conference. The first Black player to be drafted and play in the NFL was Penn State halfback Wallace Triplett, a 19th-round pick of the Lions that same year.
Now, persons of color make up 69 percent of NFL rosters. All but two players selected in the first 42 picks of the 2020 draft – quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Justin Hebert – are persons of color.

Progress has been much slower when it comes to the men deciding which players get drafted. There are just five general managers of color in the NFL: Miami’s Chris Grier, Cleveland’s Andrew Berry, Atlanta’s Terry Fontenot, Detroit’s Brad Holmes and Washington’s Martin Mayhew. Fontenot, Holmes and Mayhew, who was previously GM of the Lions, were hired this year.


Back to the future

While much has changed in the NFL over the past 85 years, amazingly, four teams are still run by direct descendants of men who made those first draft picks.

George Halas’ eldest child, Virginia McCaskey, who turned 98 in January, has been the Bears’ principal owner since her father’s death in 1983. Her son, George McCaskey, is the club’s chairman.

Michael Bidwill, the grandson of Charles Bidwill, owns the Cardinals, who moved from Chicago to St. Louis to their current home in Arizona. Michael took over the franchise after his father, Bill Bidwill, died in 2019.

Under the Rooney family, the Steelers have become six-time Super Bowl champions and a model franchise. Art Rooney II is the team’s owner and president. He learned at the feet of his grandfather and team founder, Art Rooney, and father, Dan Rooney, who are both enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Much like the Rooneys in Pittsburgh, three generations of Maras have led the Giants. John Mara, Wellington’s son and Tim’s grandson, is co-owner, president and CEO of the franchise. His brother, Timothy “Chris” Mara, is senior vice president of player personnel.

Nineteen-year-old Wellington Mara may have known more about the college players listed on that chalkboard back at the Philadelphia Ritz-Carlton than any of the other men there. Gradually, the scouting of players became more elaborate, reaching the point now where there might actually be too much information.

Teams spend millions of dollars and countless hours dissecting every aspect of a prospect’s life, from how fast he can run in shorts to what he likes to eat for breakfast. Draft talk inundates airwaves, web sites, blogs and podcasts 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Determinations are made about how well a team drafted minutes after a player is selected and months before he takes the field for the first time.

From their decked out “war rooms” or in the Rams’ case, a Malibu beach mansion, NFL teams will unite on April 29 to once again divvy out college football’s best players. They’ll be some hits and plenty of misses.

After all these years, the draft, at its core, remains nearly as much of a crapshoot as it was the day it was born. Knowing that would surely bring smiles to the faces of the men who came together that chilly February afternoon back in 1936, gambling on the future of the game they loved.

Thanks to them, the NFL is still cashing in.
 

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