Like me, you probably didn’t realize – until you read his obituary, that is – that Pete Gent, the renowned writer/receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, was drafted by the Baltimore Bullets. Sure enough, the Bullets took Gent, who had played basketball but not football at Michigan State, in the 14th round in 1964.
The NBA draft was goofy back then. It had no set length; a team could keep picking, for all anyone cared, until it ran out of uniforms. That year, only the Bullets and St. Louis Hawks were still at it when Round 14 rolled around. Baltimore grabbed Gent at No. 96, and St. Louis selected VMI’s Bill Blair at No. 97.
It had to be the most fascinating 14th round in league history.
After all, Gent wound up signing with the Cowboys, who were famous in those days for taking flyers on athletes in other sports. He played five seasons for them, catching 68 passes (and three more in the 1966 title game against the Packers). But that’s not why he’s remembered, of course. He’s remembered because, after his career was over, he wrote the novel “North Dallas Forty,” the “Ball Four” of professional football.
Like Jim Bouton in baseball, Gent pulled no punches in portraying life in the NFL – the partying, the painkillers and all the rest. His literary efforts didn’t endear him to many people in the game, but they turned him into a household name. (They also led to a movie in which the character inspired by “Dandy Don” Meredith was, unforgivably, played by curly-haired singer Mac Davis. But that’s a whole ’nother blog.)
Blair, the other player taken in Round 14, also left his mark in sports, but as a coach. First, he led his alma mater to the Elite Eight in 1976, where it lost to then-unbeaten Rutgers. (Imagine the VMI Keydets in a regional final.) Later, he served as a longtime assistant in the NBA – including in Washington, where he was Wes Unseld’s right hand – and briefly held head jobs in New Jersey (on an interim basis) and Minnesota.
One more thing: 11 rounds earlier in that 1964 draft, the Celtics chose a 6-foot-10 center you may have heard of, a guy who played at Providence and Archbishop Carroll. Yup, John Thompson went 71 picks before Pete Gent.