NFL Draft 2020: Former first-round picks talk about the evolution of the process
The NFL draft, as these former players attest to, has changed dramatically since the days they were drafted
The draft, like many of the NFL's signature events, has become an all-out spectacle. Next month, the 2020 NFL Draft will span three days and will be broadcast -- in its entirety -- on two different networks. It will be consumed by millions of fans, with immediate analysis -- from both media experts as well as from coaches, players and general managers -- mere minutes after a pick has been selected.
Many fans don't remember a time when the NFL draft wasn't a big deal to anyone that wasn't a scout, general manager or coach. In fact, many players, prior to the draft being broadcasted for the first time in 1980, didn't even know that they had been selected until someone -- a team employee, coach, or even a local sportswriter -- called to inform them that their dreams of being a pro football player had been realized.
Prior to the 2020 draft, three former first-round picks shared their unique -- and in some cases, unbelievable -- experiences from their draft day while comparing it to the pomp and pageantry that exists today.
Dave Robinson, Hall of Fame linebacker, 3-time NFL champion
Green Bay Packers 1st round pick (14th overall): 1963 NFL Draft
There was no combine in the months leading up to the 1963 draft. But Dave Robinson, who enjoyed a successful college career at Penn State, had a unique advantage heading into the draft. Joe Paterno, who at the time was an assistant coach with the Nittany Lions, also served as a Packers scout for Vince Lombardi, who was in the market for a talented linebacker heading into the '63 draft.
"(Lombardi) knew how good I was," Robinson said during an interview with CBS Sports. "Vince would call (Paterno) and ask how good was such and such that played against me. Joe could evaluate the guy I played against, knowing how good I was. So Joe was the one that recommended to Vince to draft me."
Lombardi's college connections were one of the reasons why he able to construct one of the greatest teams in pro football history. His willingness to draft African American players in the first round, something that was uncommon at that time, also helped him build a team that would win five titles in a seven-year span while serving as a trailblazer in the process.
"I talked to Vince (about) why African Americans were never drafted in the first three rounds," Robinson recalled. "He said that, in the old days, the south was all segregated. There were only a few northern schools that had very many black ballplayers on them. Most of the white ballplayers went to big name schools and had good equipment and good coaching. So, therefore, if you took a chance on a guy from a black school where he didn't have good equipment or good coaching, you had to coach him up.
"But when (Lombardi) drafted Herb Adderley (out of Michigan State) in '61 and me in the first round in '63, there was no question we had the finest of equipment and probably some of the finest coaching. So we had everything that the white ballplayers had. The only difference us we were black and they were white. Vince was quoted saying that he didn't draft by color, he drafted by football ability. Can you block and tackle."
While Lombardi and the Packers had little doubt about Robinson, there was one potential issue. Robinson, a New Jersey native, had grown up a Giants fan, something he didn't hide when the Packers called his dorm room to tell him that they had selected him the 14th overall pick in the draft.
"I left my dorm, and when I came back, they said you had a call from the Green Bay Packers on a collect call," Robinson said. "When I called them back, they asked me who was my favorite team. I told them New York. They laughed and asked, 'Would you played for us if we drafted you?' I said, 'I'll play for anybody who drafts me.' He laughed again and said he'd get back to me.
"The next call I got was from the Harrisburg paper. The guy said, 'What's it feel like to be a first-round draft pick?' I said, 'I don't know.' And he said, 'It just came over the wire. The Green Bay Packers took you in the first round.' I said, 'Whoa.' That was the first time it hit me."
Before the Packers could celebrate, there was another issue: Robinson had also been drafted by the Chargers in the third round of the AFL draft. But after already signing their first two draft picks, San Diego informed Robinson that, if he signed with them, he would immediately be traded to Buffalo. His contract offer: two years, $38,000. Conversely, the Packers had the money to sign Robinson and offered him a two-year, $45,000 deal. The decision wasn't much of one; Robinson was headed to Green Bay ... as soon as he could find it.
"The first thing I did after that was get a road map and look up Green Bay, Wisconsin," Robinson said, laughing. "I couldn't find it. In those days, everybody that got drafted by Green Bay, the first thing they did was look it up on the map, and most maps didn't show Green Bay. I knew it was cold there, that was it."
In Green Bay, Robinson was joining a team in pursuit of their third straight championship. In a twist of fate, it was the Giants' Robinson's childhood team, that ended up winning the NFL title that season. While he was partially blamed himself for the Packers' shortcomings that season, Robinson would help Green Bay win three straight NFL titles that included wins in Super Bowls I and II.
"I walked in with Vince for the pregame walk (before Super Bowl I," Robinson recalled. "Vince said, 'Look at that.' I looked around and said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'Look at the field, the way it's decorated. Football's come a long way from the cow fields we used to play in.' I said, 'Yeah coach, I guess it has.' I just kinda chuckled. If he saw what it was today, with all the glamour, and all the excitement the exposure, and all the shows, he'd probably have a heart attack. I didn't imagine it ever getting as big as it is, and I don't think that he did either."
Billy Joe Dupree, 3-time Pro Bowl tight end, Super Bowl champion
Dallas Cowboys 1st round pick (20th overall): 1973 NFL Draft
Unlike most draft picks, Billy Joe Dupree was not waiting on pins and needles during his draft day. Dupree, a construction management major at Michigan State who was closing in on his degree in the winter of 1973, had bigger priorities.
"The day of the draft, I was basically more interested in going to class than I was waiting around for somebody to call," said Dupree, who had aspirations of becoming a civil engineer upon graduation. "I got back from class around 3:30, 4 p.m., and my wife said this guy named Gil Brandt called, and he said he'd call back."
About 20 minutes later, Brandt called back.
"The first thing out of Gil's mouth was, 'Hey, congratulations, Billy Joe! Aren't you excited? We just drafted you in the first round.' My response to him was, 'Who are you really?' He said, 'I'm Gil Brandt of the Dallas Cowboys. We won the Super Bowl last year.' I said, 'That's great, but what can I do for you?' He said, 'Well, we were hoping you and your agent would come down and talk about a contract."
Not long after his first conversation with Brandt, Dupree and his agent met with Brandt in Dallas to discuss his contract. Unlike today, players during Dupree's era did not have much, if any, leverage when it came to contract negotiations. After about 30 minutes of conversation, Dupree's agent informed his client of the Cowboys' offer: $30,000 annually, about $10 less than Chuck Foreman, the first offensive player taken in the '73 draft, had received from the Vikings. While his agent was reluctant, Dupree accepted the offer.
"Mr. Brandt, we're going to take what's on the table," Dupree remembers saying at the end of his negotiation. "But, I want you to understand … you made a comment that I wasn't going to be able to make the team. I'm gonna tell you what. I'm gonna make the team, and I'm gonna do well, and when I come back to see you, whatever I ask for, below market, at market, above market, that's what I anticipate."
Dupree delivered, starting all 14 games as a rookie while receiving Rookie of the Year consideration. That following offseason, he and the Cowboys negotiated a five-year contract. And while he never anticipated playing beyond five years, Dupree, who earned three straight Pro Bowl selections from 1976-78, played 11 seasons for the Cowboys while helping Dallas win three NFC titles and a Super Bowl at the end of the 1977 season.
"I just started having so much fun after that second Super Bowl, I just lost track of time," Dupree said. "I'm a country boy, and all the thrills (that come with playing in the NFL) really have a whole lot of impact or impression on me. I had a different type of personality that went into the NFL as opposed to the average guy. It was a job, nothing more, nothing less. But I loved the job."
As a rookie, Dupree was asked to do something that no NFL player would be tasked with doing today.
"(Tom) Landry started me my first year as a rookie," Dupree said, "but he wanted to develop a new system, so he started calling plays from the sideline, so I got to be Western Union boy.
"Every now and then, I'd take a play in to Roger, (Staubach) and Roger would call time out. I guess about maybe the third that time happened, I have a guy that called one of my friends and said, 'Hey, every time you come into the game and give Roger a play, he calls timeout. What's the matter, you forget the play?' I said, 'No, Roger didn't want to run the play, so he called a timeout.'"
It wasn't long before Dupree established himself as one of the best tight ends of his era, an invaluable member of an era of Cowboys' football that earned the moniker of "America's Team".
"The attitude that we developed was, it didn't matter what the score is, if we got enough time on the clock to overcome it, that's what we'll work with," Dupree said of that era of Cowboys football. "Don't ever go into a game thinking that you're gonna lose. Go into a game thinking about how many points you're gonna win by, and then start doing it."
Today, Dupree serves on the board of the Pro Football Retired Players Association, an association "exclusively designed to develop programs and benefits for the betterment of retired NFL players." The association currently offers retired players dental and vision insurance.
"We're always looking for new ways to support the guys," Dupree said. "Hopefully in the future, we can perpetuate this thing so that it can be a lot more self-sufficient and offer a lot more benefits to former players."
Mike Haynes, Hall of Fame CB, Super Bowl champion, member of NFL's 100th anniversary team
New England Patriots 1st round pick (fifth overall): 1976 NFL Draft
While Joe Burrow has left question marks about his level of desire to be drafted by the Bengals with the No. 1 overall pick, Mike Haynes made no bones about his desire to not be the top player selected in the 1976 draft. After helping Arizona State go undefeated in 1975, Haynes had no interest in being drafted by either Tampa Bay or Seattle, the NFL's two expansion teams in 1976.
"I spent a lot of time talking to (the Seahawks') general manager about not taking me," Haynes recalled. "That he should probably take a quarterback or a running back, not a defensive back."
While Haynes ultimately got his wish, the team that did draft him, the New England Patriots, were coming off a 3-11 season.
"So I'm thinking, 'Wow, I wonder what's really different between going to a team that's won only three games and a team that's just starting out,' Haynes said. "They quickly educated me and said that they really had a good team and they had had back luck the year before with injuries and felt like they were going to have a great year this year and that I would be able to help with that."
The Patriots weren't selling Haynes a hill of beans. Less than a year later, New England was one penalty away from being in the AFC Championship Game, a game Haynes said he wouldn't have played in had the Patriots defeated the eventual champion Raiders in the divisional round. Haynes, a Pro Bowler during his rookie season, sustained a leg injury while playing catch with then Patriots head coach Chuck Fairbanks' son on the eve of the game.
"Overnight, my calf swelled up like you would not believe," Haynes said, "and I didn't think I was going to play, and I really shouldn't have played. I think if the Raiders had known I was injured, we would have gotten killed. But because I went in and did what I could — I couldn't run 100%, I don't even think I could run 60% — but because I played so well the first time we played, they didn't challenge me. I wouldn't' haven't been able to play any more games after that. I wasn't able to run anymore for months. When the next season started, it was just when I was starting to run. I couldn't do anything. It was really crazy on my part to do it, but I felt that I owed it to my team."
Ironically, it was the Raiders that gave Haynes' career a much-needed rebirth in 1983, a season that saw Haynes and the Patriots reach a stalemate with regard to his contract. After sitting out the first half of the season, Al Davis called Haynes to inform him that the Raiders were going to get him before the trade deadline. And while no deal was made before the deadline, Davis called Haynes again to tell him that they had indeed traded for his services and told him to pack his bags for Los Angeles.
But upon arriving in Los Angeles, Haynes learned that the NFL voided the trade. Haynes decided to take matters to court, where a solution was quickly reached.
"In the courtroom, the judge wanted to hear the case, and I don't think the NFL was really ready to open their books to show what teams were making and things like that," Haynes said. "We set a date but we walked right out of the courtroom. Both sides looked at each there, and the attorneys said, 'We'll settle this.' I can't repeat the exact words they said, but we shook hands right there, and they said, 'We'll work out the draft choices and the details later, but Mike, you're a Raider.'"
Haynes served as the missing piece to the Raiders' championship puzzle. Less than three months after joining the team, Haynes helped the Raiders defeat the Seahawks -- the team he convinced not to draft him seven years earlier -- in the AFC Championship Game to earn a showdown against the defending Super Bowl champion Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII. With Haynes patrolling one side of the field and All-Pro cornerback Lester Hayes on the other side, Los Angeles shut down the favored Redskins while producing one of the most shocking outcomes in Super Bowl history: a 38-9 win that gave the Raiders their third Super Bowl win in eight years.
"When I was watching those guys warm up, I just didn't have a sense that they respected us at all," said Haynes, who recorded an interception in the Raiders' blowout victory. "Everybody else we played, they seemed to have a sense of who we were and what kind of game we played. They didn't. I figured it must be because they beat the Raiders earlier (in the season). When we went back into the locker room before we came out the second time, we were definitely a different team. We were gonna be focused until that last whistle. There was no doubt that this game was gonna be a battle. We were all 100% prepared for that.
"It was a great game. It was a good feeling. I had never felt like that before."
Haynes, regarded as one of the greatest cornerbacks of all time, says that he would have loved to have played in today's pass-happy NFL. When it comes to the draft, Haynes also would have enjoyed the modern-day hoopla that comes with being a first-round pick.
"it was a very short conversation (when I was drafted)," said Haynes, who was actually asleep when the Patriots drafted him earlier that morning. "Just, 'Congratulations, you have just been drafted by the New England Patriots. Hold for the press.' And then, they put the phone on speaker, and I started getting questions from the reporters.
"Nothing like today where they put you on the airplane. They fly you to New York, they introduce you to the commissioner … staying at a nice hotel on Park Avenue. And then the next day, you're with your family and you're all sitting in a room waiting to hear your name called, and then you get to shake the hand of the commissioner and all that. That would have been really a nice way to do it. I wish they could have done it the way they do it today. It's really nice."
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