Seeing as the NFL Draft is this week, I thought I’d use this week’s Throwback Thursday post to look back at the experiences of some of our Notre Dame Fighting Irish men on their NFL Draft Day. I always imagined that a player’s draft day would be such a magical experience, but sometimes expectations aren’t managed well and it can turn into a nightmare. Here are some experiences, both good and bad, of what NFL Draft Day was like for some former Notre Dame Fighting Irish players.
“I was the 7th pick in the 1978 NFL draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Ross Browner went as the 8th pick to the Cincinnati Bengals and Luther Bradley went as the 11th pick to the Detroit Lions. I was hanging out in Sorin Hall when I got a call from a reporter from the Boston Globe asking me how I felt about my draft pick and I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ The 49ers hadn’t even called me at that point. About an hour later I received a call from the 49ers and they did a press conference with me via speakerphone. I played in the NFL for three years. Then Bill Walsh came in and wanted to move me from tight end to guard. I lost more games in my NFL rookie year than I did in high school and college combined. We were 2-14, 2-14 and then 6-10. I told Bill that the team was going nowhere and that I had decided to go back and finish dental school. Of course, the 49ers ended up winning the Super Bowl that very next season.”
“My NFL draft was actually pretty horrible. You’re only as informed as the information you receive from other people. The consensus was that I was going to be drafted in the first or second round, and I didn’t end up being drafted until the end of the fourth round. To call it anti-climatic would have been the understatement of the year. In retrospect, though, I was drafted exactly where I should have been given the talent and competition in that year’s draft. I just wish I would have had that information prior to going into the draft. It would have saved me from getting knocked down and having to get back up again.”
“I remember sitting in my little apartment in South Bend with a couple of friends around me. I had no idea where I was going to go. I knew I was not going as the first pick to the Atlanta Falcons, as they were taking Aundray Bruce. There was a chance I could go second, third, fourth or fifth before the Raiders, who were the sixth pick, but I really did not want to go to any of those teams. (Kansas City, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati). I looked at the Raiders’ roster and saw Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen and I knew that was where I wanted to be. To be able to play with Jackson and Allen, and learn the game from that caliber of players, was exactly what I was hoping for. I told my hopes to my agent, but my agent did not have a good feel for how this was all going to play out. Right before the fourth pick (Tampa Bay) the Raiders called me to say, ‘If you are there at the No. 6 pick, we are going to take you … do you want to be a Raider?’ Yes! After the Bengals made their choice at No. 5 and it was not me, the Raiders called back and said, ‘We’re bringing you to Cali!’”
“I was in Florida on my draft day. I had a hotel suite in Cocoa Beach with a large group of my family and friends. I had been invited to come to New York City to be at the NFL Draft but I didn’t want all of those cameras in my face just in case something went wrong. I was expecting to go to Cleveland in the number nine spot, but when they took Tommy Vardell I knew it would be a bit more of a wait. Then I got a call from Ray Handley, the head coach of the New York Giants saying that they were going to select me as the next pick (14) to play for the Giants. I remember walking out to the hotel balcony by myself and reflecting on everything that had just happened.”
“I decided to not go to New York City to attend the draft in person. The NFL draft process today is much more of a spectacle, a televised circus, than it was when we were being drafted. I decided to stay home and watch it with my close friends and family. Drew (Bledsoe) and I knew we were going to go one and two, what we did not know was the order. The moment his choice was made I knew where I stood.”
“The whole experience was kind of a blur. Unlike some of the other guys, I didn’t have to wait very long, but it was still a surreal thing. We knew all along that it was going to happen. It was the goal, the end game, but it was a huge relief when it actually happened.”
“The first day, and the first two rounds, come and go, and I was not picked up by any teams. I was kind of bummed because the Chicago Bears had expressed a significant amount of interest, and instead took a punter in the second round. A punter? The third round came and went. Then the fourth … fifth … sixth … Are you kidding me? The seventh round came and went, and still no one had chosen me. After the draft was complete, my phone started ringing off the hook with teams talking to me about their interest in picking me up as a free agent. At this point I say to myself, I am a Florida boy who has lived in freezing South Bend, Indiana, for four years, and I have my pick of several teams; I am going to pick somewhere warm! I signed to play tight end for the Arizona Cardinals, and by the fourth game of the season, I was the starting tight end.”
“It was kind of a bittersweet moment for me. I didn’t get drafted until the sixth round and though you are happy enough to be drafted, you always think you will be drafted higher than you are. I had back surgery and knee surgery during my career at Notre Dame, so I was happy that a team was able to look past that and select me. It is a great feeling to be picked; to know that someone wants you. But I did have a little chip on my shoulder because I went so late in the draft. I was drafted by Jimmy Johnson of the Miami Dolphins and I really enjoyed playing for Johnson. He was an upfront kind of head coach. Just an all-around quality guy. He gave me a chance when a lot of people probably would not have.”
“If I had draft day to do over, I probably would have played golf all day and not obsessed over it. I thought I would go either mid-second round or mid-third round. We had a draft day party at a local restaurant in Cincinnati. The draft party started at noon, which is when the draft coverage started on ESPN. They showed the first three rounds on Day 1, as each team got 15 minutes to make each pick. I was the 55th pick on Day 1 of the draft and I didn’t get picked until 8:30 pm. People at the party kept asking me when I thought I was going to get picked, and I kept telling them, ‘I have no idea!!’ Cell phones were just starting to be prevalent at that time, and a few people started to call me on my cell phone and I kept telling them, ‘quit calling me I need to keep this line open!’”
“When I finally got drafted, the TV coverage had moved from ESPN to ESPN2, and the restaurant that we were at only had ESPN. The main draft on ESPN went from noon to 7:30 pm, and then it switched over to ESPN2. At this point, the owner of the restaurant is frantically calling the cable company and trying to get them to activate ESPN2, but they were not able to do that before I got the call.”
“So I finally got a phone call on the restaurant’s phone. They called me over and I picked up the phone. All anyone heard me say was, ‘yes sir, great news, thank you very much;’ and then I hung up. At this point no one knew what team I was going to. I had three boxes of hats. I had to dig through all three before I finally found the hat that I’m looking for in the third box. I paused for a second, picked it up and put it on (San Francisco 49ers), and the whole place when nuts. I still have never seen the footage of my name being called. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I was the designated driver that night for my friends to celebrate. Then I went home, packed, and caught a 6 am flight the next morning. I finally caught a few hours of sleep on the plane.”
“My family was in town and we were having a barbecue enjoying our time and hanging out with friends. I actually missed my first draft day phone call from the Eagles. Then my phone started ringing a bit later and it was the Eagles informing me that they had taken me in the 3rd round. I was so excited for the opportunity and swore to make the most of it. The transition to the NFL was easier than I thought it would be because one my ND teammates, Bobby Taylor, played for the Eagles as well.”
“I was drafted in the third round of the NFL draft, the 87th pick. Bertrand Berry was drafted 86th to the Colts. I stayed in South Bend and watched the draft by myself. I kicked my roommate Nate out of the apartment because I didn’t want to be around anyone while I was watching the draft. Nate was an Air Force ROTC nerd studying civil engineering. Talk about yin and yang. Back then the draft was terrible and it took so long for each pick. I ordered Papa John’s pizza, took a nap, woke up, saw Renaldo get drafted, saw more guys get drafted in the second round including Marc Edwards. I really didn’t think I was going to get drafted until the second day. I tested really well at the combine. I tested at the safety level for a linebacker position. I’m sitting there watching the draft when I get a call from a friend of mine. I immediately tell him, ‘I can’t talk right now! I’m waiting for my draft phone call!’ I got off the phone and shortly after that I got a call from Jimmy Johnson and the Dolphins saying that they were going to take me at the 89th pick at the end of the third round and I really believed him because I knew he liked small explosive linebackers. I was so excited about the opportunity to get to move to Florida after four years in South Bend, Indiana. I always wanted to live there because it has sunshine 12 months out of the year and I could cookout and go to the beach all year round. It was somewhere around pick 65 or 70 when he called.”
“The phone rang again and this time it was the Carolina Panthers asking me if I wanted to be a Panther. You betcha!! I want to come home. They told me that they were going to take me at the 87th pick and that’s exactly what they did. I’ve never been so overcome with emotion until that very moment. I didn’t expect to go on the first day. It was like all of the hard work, the tough classes, overcoming injuries, everything, it all finally paid off. Getting drafted into the NFL was icing on the cake. My whole plan for my life was that as long as my parents didn’t have to pay for my college education, things were going to be great. That was the best gift I could give back to them. All of that was going through my head as I was getting drafted to the Panthers and so it was completely overwhelming.”
“My NFL draft was absolutely horrendous. I shouldn’t have watched the draft. In my house, we always had a draft party every year, with pancakes, steak and eggs — it was a huge deal for us. But my draft day was rough. It was a tremendously humbling experience going in the 7th round. It made me work hard, focus, and made me even more determined to be successful. There were people who went ahead of me that I thought should not have gone ahead of me, but the pain of going the second day really made me the person I became. It developed a great deal of character in me. I was the no. 2 ranked outside linebacker in the country going into the draft, was a starter all four years, and a starter as a true freshman. How did I not get drafted higher than the 7th round?”
“My NFL draft wasn’t supposed to be very stressful, but of course, it was. It didn’t need to be, but it was self-inflicted. I had a good idea as to what round I was going to be drafted in, just not which team. I had family over to the house and I was feeling pretty comfortable. For me it was going to be a celebration regardless of where I went. It started out mostly as family being with me watching the draft but as the day wore on more and more people came over. I knew I wasn’t going to be drafted in the first round. There was a chance that I would be drafted in the middle to end of the second round but more likely at some point in the third. The problem was that me and my agent thought I would go ahead of certain other linebackers, so when people like Boss Bailey and Teddy Lehman came off the board before me my mood started to change. I really thought that I would go before them and they were coming off the board much earlier than we had anticipated.It was another 20 picks before I was drafted. That was only about an hour time difference but it seemed like a week.”
“You had to submit two different phone numbers for the draft and so I had two phones sitting in front of me. It got to the point where I had people checking to make sure the phones were working. I was sure that there must be something wrong with my phones. I was frustrated and completely distraught. I went into the back room and just closed the door. I had to separate myself from what was going on. Calm down. Talk myself back into reality. When the phone rang I ran out to get the phone and it was Jim Haslett from the New Orleans Saints telling me they were going to draft me, and then I heard everyone out in the front room screaming because it was at the bottom of the TV screen. My dad and mom and my aunts all jumped on top of me on the bed. It was a great feeling.”
While I know nothing in life is guaranteed, I hope all of the Notre Dame men in this year’s NFL Draft have a wonderful experience this week and are chosen by the team that is their perfect fit. Will you watch this year’s NFL Draft? Where do you think our boys will land?
Cheers & GO IRISH!