On Now
Coming Up

News & Blogs

Print
RSS

Saccomano: I Remember When...

Posted May 8, 2014

Jim Saccomano shares unique stories about his memories of the NFL Draft. Continue to check back for more stories throughout draft weekend.

Editor's note: During the 2014 NFL Draft, Jim Saccomano will continue to update this article with unique stories from his memories of drafts past. Check back for more "I Remember When..." segments in this article all weekend long.

I Remember When...My First Draft

The years pass fast. My first draft was in 1973, and I was at that time covering the team for a local radio station. The media would gather in the media lounge at the old complex, at 5700 Logan Street, and it was not on ESPN then.

That is because there was no ESPN then.

As each choice was made, the PR department would come in and tell us who it was, and perhaps give us prepared biographical info on the player, but many times we were on our own for information.

The coach would come in several times during the draft to give us his take on the day’s activities—that is still done today, but at a dramatically more sophisticated level.

One thing that has not changed at all—coffee and doughnuts in the morning, and lunch later on.

General Manager and Head Coach John Ralston was a brilliant talent evaluator and had great drafts for the Denver Broncos.

I remember well early in the morning that first day, when we were still among the very few people present there that early, I asked John what his first order of business was.

He said, “I’m going to have a doughnut, Jim. And you should, too. It’ll cure all ails.”

So we did. And then he proceeded to draft Otis Armstrong, Barney Chavous, Paul Howard, Tom Jackson and John Grant, giving the Broncos a great foundation for what would be the team’s first Super Bowl team in 1977.

The doughnuts worked out great, Coach!

*****

I Remember When…The Press Got to Pick!

John Ralston was and is an amazing individual. He is still active at San Jose State University, and was a great talent scout and organizer.

His role in getting much of the talent that made the Broncos winners can never be understated,

The draft was different in the early 1970s.

Teams worked just as hard in scouting, but there was not the technology of today, and scouts had to more often go visit a player to see him personally.

Word of mouth was much larger then as a criterion for selection.

The draft was 17 rounds, and as you know from watching the draft today, that is a lot of football players to take over a two-day period.

By the time we were deep into the second day, PR reps for the team would occasionally wander into the press room to ask the “draftniks” among the press if they had any opinions on possible sleepers.

But one of the things John lovel to do was involved everyone—then and now a great PR technique for building relationships.

When it came to the final round of the draft, the press would be allowed into the draft room—the so called “war room”—and by the end there were not many press left, just the hard core (myself included in 1973).

John Ralston would give the press perhaps three choices of players the Broncos were considering for the final pick, give us the pros and cons of each player, and then the press would get to make the selection from his list.

That was back in the day, and maybe hard to believe now, but yes, within certain limitations, the press could make a draft pick!

*****

I Remember When...The Broncos Were So Cheap That...

This is 2014, and the Denver Broncos are among the most successful teams in the most successful team sport in American history.

Big, everything is big.

The Broncos of course are in the midst of a $35 million addition and renovation to the Dove Valley headquarters. So stone is left unturned in trying to have success in player acquisition.

But back in 1960 the Broncos were a new team in a new league, the American Football League, and the team headquarters were in a quonset hut left over from World War II days—really, it is still there, by the way, on Clay Street near the stadium.

The general manager in 1960 was Dean Griffing, who had come to the Broncos from Canada and who purchased those legendary yellow and brown uniforms—used!!

Once upon a time when Gene Mingo kicked a field goal that landed in the stands, Griffing actually went into the stands to wrestle the ball away from a fan.

I realize you think these tales cannot possible be true, but I assure you they are.

And on that first draft day for the Denver Broncos and the American Football League, Griffing used “Street and Smith’s College Football,” a popular magazine that was very good as a college football publicity vehicle in that era, to make his selections.

Yes, the main scouting tool for the Broncos in 1960 was a college football magazine.

*****

I Remember When...The First Trade

The Denver Broncos and all other National Football League teams get their players from the draft, from free agency, and sometimes still from trades.
 
But once upon a time there was no free agency and the trade was the only method other than drafting players to significantly improve a team.
 
The Broncos had their first draft, like all American Football League teams, in 1960.
 
The AFL was building, and besides the draftees, a lot of the players were older NFL guys whose careers were just about over, and they were trying to squeeze in a few more paychecks.  Some went on to great stardom, but it was hit and miss, like anything else.
 
One of the players Denver selected was a fullback from Texas Christian University named Jack Spikes.
 
He figured prominently in a “first” for the Denver Broncos.
 
Jack Spikes, or at least his rights, were the very first trade in team history.
 
Denver sent the rights to Spikes to the Dallas Texans for the rights to a young safety from Baylor University.
 
That was Austin “Goose” Gonsoulin, who went on to be an All-AFL safety for the Broncos and is in the team’s Ring of Fame.
 
A lot of players come and go, a lot of trades are made during the draft, but the very first—there can only be one first—brought a Ring of Fame safety to the Broncos back in 1960! 

*****

I Remember When...A PR Draft Selection Was Made!

Teams have to consider every possible factor when they make a draft selection, and one of them is always the public relations aspect.
 
This is certainly way down the line in importance to a team, and usually teams are just more concerned that there is no “bad PR” attached to a player.
 
But once upon a time, back in the day, the Broncos could not ever get their number one draft choice to sign in Denver.
 
Since the player was also drafted in the NFL, he would always choose to go with the senior circuit rather than to sign with arguably the worst franchise in the upstart AFL.
 
Denver did not sign its first number one until Floyd Little in 1967, and that was an AFL-NFL common draft, or the Broncos likely would not have gotten Little either.
 
But back in 1965 the Broncos were a terrible team, just awful, and had trouble signing any draft choices, with absolutely no hope of signing a first pick.
 
So Denver went for a move to make the franchise look as good as possible with local fans.
 
The Broncos knew that Chicago was drafting linebacker Dick Butkus from Illinois, and it was widely known that he would sign with the Bears.
 
But the Broncos made Butkus their first selection (actually in the second round), and the team really did generate some great publicity for about a week, the Broncos saying they would do anything possible—pay any amount (which they did not have) to sign Butkus.
 
It excited Bronco fans, but did not really fool the press, but the writers had to write the stories and cover the draft.
 
Butkus of course signed with the Bears and the Broncos wallowed in the AFL West basement for several more years.

*****

I Remember When...Butkus and Sayers!

The Denver Broncos unsuccessfully drafted Dick Butkus in 1965, as he logically went on to sign with the Chicago Bears.
 
But did you know?
 
He was part of perhaps the greatest consecutive selections by one team in history!
 
Due to trades that had taken place before the draft, the Chicago Bears had consecutive first-round draft choices.
 
And with those choices the Bears made perhaps the best one-two, back-to-back moves in history, taking Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus.
 
First of all, it is rare for one team to have two straight picks.
 
But in this case the two players did not just pan out, but BOTH Sayers and Butkus had such great careers that each is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
 
Hard to top that drafting!

*****

I Remember When...Position Switch Pays Off!
 
I still remember covering the 1975 draft for a local radio station and on day two asking Broncos officials if they had any specific targets for the second day of the draft.
 
They said, yes, they had their eye on a guy who was a pretty good college quarterback at Tulane—but because the Broncos thought he might be able to convert to the defensive backfield.
 
So on day two in 1975, with their eighth round selection and the 199th overall, the Broncos took Tulane quarterback Steve Foley.
 
They gave Foley a real quick look at quarterback and asked him to work out on the defensive side of the ball—Steve explained that he had never before player defense, but John Ralston loved his athletic ability.
 
Foley had a notable career for the Broncos as a starter at both cornerback and safety.
 
Defensive coordinator Joe Collier always liked it when he had safeties who had first player corner—he felt it just broadened their knowledge of how the positions tie together.
 
And when the fans in Broncos Country voted on the team’s 50-year all-star team, the always popular Foley—a terrific player—was on that team as a defensive back.
 
Pretty successful transition from college quarterback!

*****

I Remember When...Sometimes, You Never Know
 
The Denver Broncos were in the hunt for an offensive left tackle in 1979, and the team used its first round pick, the 22nd overall, to choose tackle Kelvin Clark from the University of Nebraska.
 
Seemingly, Clark had it all.  Height, weight, strength, and he was a charming, mild-mannered gentleman.
 
In just about every walk of life it is a wonderful thing to be a charming, mild-mannered gentleman.
 
But not always so much in the National Football League.
 
The previous year, 1978, the Baltimore Colts had used a late round (ninth, I believe) pick on a tackle from Texas named Dave Studdard, but they deemed him to be nothing special and he was released.
 
As I said, Denver was looking for a tackle, and even though the team had drafted Clark in the first round, the Broncos signed several other prospects off the street, Studdard among them.
 
Then came minicamp, and Studdard quickly caught the scouts’ eyes with his nice feet, sturdy build, and rock solid attitude.
 
Then came training camp, and Studdard kept moving up, while Clark did not.  Everyone liked Kelvin Clark.  He was a wonderful guy and had been a great college player.
 
But sometimes it does not work out as teams expect.
 
Kelvin Clark played here just three years.  His nickname at Nebraska had been “Big Neck,” but Studdard just kept on keeping on.
 
Dave Studdard was a starting tackle for the Broncos as the team became the only AFC club to go to three Super Bowls in the 1980s.
 
Studdard was fixture, and he was signed off the street.
 
You never know.

*****

I Remember When...The OTHER Story in 1983
 
There are a zillion stories and memories about John Elway and the 1983 draft.
 
It has been the subject of an ESPN documentary and is the stuff of legend in the entire National Football League.
 
If anything, John is a bigger story and persona than even deemed to be.  A completely dominant figure, and deservedly so.
 
But back in 1983, as the draft came to a close, with the 310th overall selection the Broncos took a small (too small?), light (too light?), seemingly slow (too slow?) nose tackle and defensive end from the University of Minnesota.
 
Karl Mecklenburg.
 
A complete oversight in the draft, including in his home state where the Minnesota Vikings looked past him, Mecklenburg came to Denver.
 
And I well remember how we flew in all the draft choices so I could have them meet the press.
 
We had them in our big team meeting room, seated in various rows, and the press wandered around and did newspaper, radio and television interviews with all the players.  Except one.
 
Nobody talked to Mecklenburg at all.
 
Finally, with a sense toward his feelings as much as anything else—we had plenty of publicity from the draftees—I asked one of the reporters, a good friend, if he would mind going over to Mecklenburg, taking out his notebook and pretending to ask him a few questions, just so he could feel like part of the process.
 
It seems funny now, maybe ridiculous, but that is how little attention Karl Mecklenburg received in the 1983 draft.
 
Now he is a Broncos Ring of Fame member and a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate whom I hope will eventually be elected, as he deserves.
 
From last pick to brilliant defensive player, Meck shows once again that the draft is just part of the process.  Eventually, they step on the same field, and the best players move to the front.

Facebook Comments

Let us know your thoughts. Comment below through Facebook, AOL, Hotmail or Yahoo accounts.