- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2005

No NFL teams have longer histories than Chicago and Green Bay, and neither hopes history repeats when it comes to the players each took in the first round of April’s draft.

Chicago, which drafted Hall of Fame running backs Gale Sayers (1965) and Walter Payton (1975) fourth overall, took Texas back Cedric Benson with the fourth choice this year. Former Bears coach Dave Wannstedt couldn’t help but remember the running back flops of his tenure: Rashaan Salaam (21st choice, 1995) and Curtis Enis (fifth, 1998).

“It’s Christmas all around the NFL,” said Wannstedt, now coach at the University of Pittsburgh. “Everybody feels like they got the best players. Everybody feels like they got the guys they wanted.”

Salaam ran for 1,074 yards as a rookie, but drugs had him out of the league by 1999. Enis gained 916 yards his second year but was gone by 2001 after getting involved in what many called a cult.

“Curtis was about as sure a bet as I thought I was ever going to make,” Wannstedt said. “You can’t do any more homework on an individual unless the FBI and the CIA are involved.”

Green Bay chose California’s Rich Campbell sixth overall in 1981, but he arrived with an injured throwing shoulder and never made it past third string in his four seasons. The Packers finally took a quarterback in the first round again last month, making California’s Aaron Rodgers, who came close to going first overall to San Francisco, the 24th selection and the heir apparent to Brett Favre.

The Packers hadn’t drafted a quarterback even as high as the third round since taking Anthony Dilweg (Walt Whitman High) in 1989. But once Rodgers slipped out of the top 10, new general manager Ted Thompson realized the Packers had a shot at landing a potential star to groom as the successor to Favre, who turns 36 in October.

“I think when you look back five years from now you’ll say, ‘This was a [heck] of a pick,’ ” Thompson said. “I wasn’t necessarily [as] comfortable taking that position as some other things we’d like to have done, but you make draft-day decisions based on the long-term best interests of your organization.”

Saints going Southwest? — The Saints have the right to leave New Orleans after this season if they repay $81 million to the state of Louisiana. Frustrated by an impasse in his negotiations with state officials, Saints owner Tom Benson let it be known he might move the club to San Antonio, where he has a home, or to Albuquerque, N.M.

Louisiana officials didn’t grab the bait even after Benson’s attorney, Stanley Rosenberg, claimed his boss has a $1.2 billion offer to sell the club, $400 million more than the record price Dan Snyder paid for the Washington Redskins and their stadium in 1999.

“It doesn’t surprise us at all that they will be rattling the saber a little bit to bring more tension to the situation,” said Doug Thornton, regional vice president of SMG, the company that operates the Superdome. “This is what NFL teams do.”

Rev. Douglas Haywood apparently took Benson’s threat more seriously. In his recent invocation to open the legislative session in Baton Rouge, the lifelong Saints fan “asked God to save us from the bondage of Tom Benson. … I love the Saints, [but] I’m kinda upset with them now because they’re talking about moving to San Antonio. Tom Benson owes it to the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana to reach an agreement. The fans have been faithful for all these years going back to when they were wearing bags on their heads.”

Boulware nevermore — The recent release of outside linebacker Peter Boulware left just five players in Baltimore who started Super Bowl XXXV in 2001: Middle linebacker Ray Lewis, cornerback Chris McAlister, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, guard Edwin Mulitalo and center Mike Flynn. Running back Jamal Lewis, linebacker Cornell Brown and kicker Matt Stover also played in the Ravens’ victory over the New York Giants.

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