The NFL draft is what you make of it.
We make it a three-day carnival with wall-to-wall coverage on television and radio following weeks of preliminary analysis on the internet and elsewhere.
Jay Berwanger, the first player ever selected in the draft, had a different take on the thing. Figured it wasn’t worth worrying about, and that there certainly wasn’t enough money in pro football to change career plans over it.
Of course, a lot has changed since 1936. Berwanger, also the first winner of the Heisman Trophy, thought so little of that award that he used it as a doorstop. So when he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles and asked to sign he threw out an outrageous contract request – $1,000 per game – just to see what would happen.
Nothing happened, at least with the Eagles. They traded his rights to the Chicago Bears but George Halas couldn’t meet Berwanger’s demands, either, even though it would have been a promotional coup to have the University of Chicago star playing pro ball right there in town.
Was Berwanger crazy for passing on an opportunity for an NFL career to take a job as a foam-rubber salesman instead? Bear Bryant probably didn’t think so.
He, too, was selected in the original NFL draft, a low-key affair conducted at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia. Bryant went 31st overall to the Brooklyn Dodgers, a football operation that played its games at Ebbets Field. As a country boy from Alabama, it probably sounded a little foreign, not worth the trouble. Bryant took a job coaching football at tiny Union University in Tennessee instead.
Three decades later one of Bryant’s own players at Alabama, Joe Namath, benefitted from the beefing up of the draft process. He turned pro during the bidding war for college players between the NFL and the rival AFL and chose the New York Jets over the St. Louis Cardinals. His salary was $427,000 over three years, then a pro football record payout.
At the time Bryant himself was working on a long-term contract that was believed to be worth $17,500 a year.
None of this needs to make perfect sense. None of it ever will.
I can justify my position in two words.