This weekend is that time of the year when the NFL goes shopping for meat on a hoof — the draft.
It’s an event that has grown into an industry onto itself, going from city to city — at least pre-COVID-19 — with draft parties, mock drafts and around-the-clock programming with draft analysts predicting future success and failure for hundreds of young men hoping to continue their football careers.
It’s a time when football fans find out who will be their new loves or whose name they will curse in years to come.
The draft has changed dramatically over the years, from a conference call exercise to an elaborate staged event, complete with hugs from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
What is often missing are the personal behind-the-scenes stories that led to the draft picks that became stars of their new teams — like when the Washington Football Team drafted a little-known linebacker in the 18th round (yes there were 20 rounds of the draft back in 1965) out of North Carolina — someone who had never watched a full NFL game on television who would go on to be a Hall of Famer.
Here are some of those stories, courtesy of my book “Hail Victory”:
Linebacker Chris Hanburger: “I was drafted in the 18th round. I wasn’t even thinking about playing professional football. I had no expectations of playing. I was at the University of North Carolina and I was taken by surprise. I had seen the Redskins play occasionally on television, but I had never watched a complete professional game, and didn’t know much about it. It was a total shock to be drafted. A couple of guys told me about it after it happened.
Running back Larry Brown (drafted in the 8th round in 1969): “I didn’t know I would be picked by the Redskins. (Coach) Vince Gibson brought that up to me at Kansas State. I had no idea. I wasn’t even focused on playing professional football. He told me one day that he thought I would be drafted somewhere in the first four or five rounds. That got my attention. Then I began to focus on it. After those rounds passed, I forgot about it. Then the phone rang and someone said, ‘Congratulations, you have just become a member of the Washington Redskins.”
Defensive end Dexter Manley (drafted in the fifth round in 1981): I saw (general manager) Bobby Beathard at the combine in Tampa, Bobby and another guy. They pulled me off into their room and we had a sit down and talk. Bobby Beathard told me he was going to draft me. He didn’t tell me which round, but he said he was going to draft me. I fell in the draft. Oklahoma State was on probation for four years. They kept talking to me, and I thought I would be going in the top three rounds, maybe the second or third round. I did great at the combine, then the word was that people were questioning my character. I got in trouble at Oklahoma State, and they were on probation. The word was I was taking stuff or giving stuff.
“I will never forget draft day. It wasn’t televised then. I was sitting in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I didn’t get picked the first day, and they stopped in the third or fourth round. By the time the fifth round came I couldn’t believe it. My agent told me they were questioning my character. I got on my knees and said a prayer. As soon as I got off my knees, the phone rings, and it was Bobby Beathard. He had drafted me.”
Safety Mark Murphy (currently Green Bay Packers president) who had the pleasure of being selected by George Allen in 1977 — but not drafted: “I was a senior at Colgate in the spring. I didn’t know if I would be drafted or not, but I got a call from George Allen. Back then, it was 12 rounds and held over two days. He called me and said, ‘We really like you Mark. We want to have you here. We want to draft you. We’re going to get you an airplane ticket and fly you down here and have a press conference and announce you.’ So they down the first day of the draft and I thought this was great. They put me up at a hotel near Dulles Airport. I didn’t really know what was going on. I watched television and saw that the Redskins had two picks in the draft on the first day, and I wasn’t one of them. I figured I would be drafted on the second day. Then early that day they got me up and about a half dozen other players they had there. They drove us around in a van and gave us a tour of the city. None of us really knew what was going on. We had lunch downtown, saw Washington, and later in the afternoon they took us out to Redskin Park. They put us all in one room, and then called us in for a meeting, one at a time. They told us that the draft had just ended. You haven’t been drafted, but we want to sign you as a free agent.’
“George was hiding us, hoping that no other teams would get in touch with us. I called back home and spoke to my girlfriend, who is now my wife, and she said, ‘Where have you been? I’ve been trying to call the hotel trying to get you and they say there is no Mark Murphy registered there.’ I had given my wife the phone number for the hotel, but the Redskins had given the hotel instructions to say there was no Mark Murphy staying there. She said there were six other teams that had called me at home wanting to sign me as a free agent. Fortunately, I got in touch with some of them before I finally did sign with the Redskins.
“George called me his 13th round draft pick.”
You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.