The 80th anniversary of the NFL Draft is being held this week in Philadelphia, where the original draft was staged on February 8-9, 1936. To celebrate, the Talk of Fame Network brings a unique view of how it all began through the eyes of the son of its creator, Hall of Famer and former NFL commissioner Bert Bell.
Upton Bell, a former NFL general manager and World Football League franchise owner, provides the anecdotal history of the how the draft came to be on this week’s show, while ex-Eagles’ and Cleveland Browns’ president Joe Banner supplies an insider’s view of what the Browns went through making the draft’s No. 1 pick in their search for their quarterback of the future.
“You can’t be a serious competitor without a quarterback,’’ Banner explained. “That said, you cannot force a pick. You’ve got to be very careful. You cannot take a first-round pick because you’re trying to build a tam and force it.
“You don’t have to pick, in my opinion, your highest-graded guy if the guy is a little bit below is a quarterback you think is good enough to win with but they’ve got to be very, very careful here. Last year they bypassed a quarterback (the Eagles’ Carson Wentz) who looks like he’s going to be excellent. They cannot do a flip of that now because they get too anxious.’’
And Cleveland did not as three quarterbacks came off the board in the first round … with none to the Browns. The hysteria and frivolity that comes with a crowd of over 200,000 witnessing this year’s draft contrasted greatly with what happened at the first draft.
“Everything changed in pro football (because of the draft Bert Bell created),’’ his son said. “My father came to believe there was no way the NFL would survive without a common draft.
“At the time people looked down on pro football. Most did not sign … but (that draft) was the great beginning. Without Bert Bell’s draft, no league would have made it.’’
Only 32 of the original 81 players drafted signed with NFL teams in 1936, and none of the nine Bert Bell selected agreed to contracts. When it was over, Bell recalled, there were NO stories written about the event in the Philadelphia papers. Contrast that with the months-long debate and analysis that goes on with today’s draft.
Speaking of the mania, Eagles’ cult hero Vince Papale, who was never drafted but came out from behind a bar to become the “Invincible’’ walk-on special teams captain during the time Dick Vermeil was head coach, also visits to describe how excited the city is this week and recall how he went from former semi-pro unknown to Eagles’ legend without the help of the draft.
There’s much more draft talk, but our Ron Borges also argues the Hall of Fame case for ex-Patriots’ All-Pro defensive lineman Richard Seymour and Rick Gosselin, our Dr. Data, breaks down the sad recent history of Cleveland’s pursuit of a quarterback, a quest that in the 18 drafts since the franchise returned to Cleveland in 1999 has led to nine quarterbacks being drafted, including four first-round busts.
There’s all that and more on our weekly two hour show. You can listen in on SB Nation Radio, on 77 stations around the country or by downloading our free podcast at iTunes. You can also listen to this show and past ones on our website, talkoffamenetwork.com.