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Sacco Sez: My 50th NFL Draft


Like virtually every pro football fan in America, I have long had a fascination with the NFL Draft.

And, considering the length of my time with and around the Denver Broncos, I had not stopped to realize that as employee and, way before that as reporter, I now have been on premises for 50 drafts.

In that lofty time span I have seen a lot of things and come to a lot of conclusions.

I can remember when George McFadden was the Broncos' public relations director and my boss, having previously been with the San Francisco 49ers for over a decade.

I asked George how the media glut was in the 1960s on draft day.

"There was no media glut," George replied. "There was virtually no media at all. We handled the draft by phone from the team occasions to New York, but there was no television coverage, ESPN did not exist yet. We would draft the players, and then I would type up a press release and we would send it to our local media outlets and hope that few of them would print their names in the papers."

George continued, "This was back in the days of film, before television stations started shooting in video tape, so they were not about to use any film talking about guys who were not certain to actually become 49ers."

Those statements represent the way things used to be in the 1960s, before ESPN, the NFL Network, certainly before social media, before the NFL Combine and before scouting was what it is today. In a lot of ways, the 1960s were still the infancy stages of the modern game and its marriage to modern technology.

This year, a record number of first-round draft spots were traded before the draft began, as teams looked for solutions to their needs before the draft even began, if possible. Of course, the Denver Broncos led the pack in that regard, trading for the magnificent Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks.

This having been draft week, some media members still have commented as to the large package that the Broncos gave to Seattle to make this deal happen.

But I was immediately reminded of a lesson I was taught at my first NFL Draft in 1973, when I was a young reporter for KBTR radio.

At that time, ESPN had not yet even been created. The NFL Network was decades away. Coverage was based on local newspapers, radio and television, and Denver had just one sports talk show at that time. It was truly a different era.

A number of us were in the Broncos' press room at the team's 5700 Logan Street location, when the Baltimore Colts and the New Orleans Saints completed a major trade, a sway of draft choices that gave the Colts the second-overall pick in the entire draft. This was a monumental trade, as it was known that the Colts would draft quarterback Bert Jones from LSU, and Baltimore also had to include All-Pro defensive end Billy Newsome to get New Orleans to make the deal.

In attendance at that draft was veteran Denver Post columnist Jim Graham, without question one of the best observers of football of that era. I commented to Graham that I could not believe that Baltimore would include a defensive end in his prime in the trade.

Graham calmly took a bite out of a doughnut, washed it down with some coffee (I can still see the doughnut crumbs on his sweater), and replied, "Listen to me, kid. All-Pro defensive ends are a dime a dozen when you can get an arm like this kid has."

Before going back to his doughnut, he finalized his thoughts by saying to me, "Always take the quarterback, kid. The price tag does not matter much because the quarterback gives you a chance at the big game. Just make the deal."

That was 50 years ago, and I have never found Graham's words to not ring true.

Jones had a great career with the Colts and was named the NFL Most Valuable Player in 1976. Before injuries slowed his career, Jones took the Colts to three straight AFC East division titles. He eventually missed most of 1978 and 1979 with a shoulder injury, but he was considered a premier quarterback during his days with the Colts.

That is exactly what Broncos General Manager George Paton did in obtaining Russell Wilson. He gave the Broncos, Broncos Country and the Mile High City a chance at the big game.

Starting in the 1960s and continuing now, professional football is the number one spectator sport in the United States. That is according to every Harris and Gallup poll taken in those years.

Pro football is number one for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it is mostly played on Sunday and that is the single day of the week that most Americans have off from work. One game per week makes it easier to galvanize attention of the fan, and most of all, the game is just perfect for television.

The NFL — and now, for the better part of four decades, the NFL Draft — is married to the media through television, specifically ESPN and the NFL Network.

The draft sells the promise of immediate success, excitement, image and enthusiasm.

Part of the magic of the NFL in the American fan base is based on the illusion present in April that says any team can hold the Lombardi Trophy next February.

This will not happen, of course, but there is nothing wrong with having hope and desire.

There is no single non-game event like the NFL Draft. It is much like an NFL game weekend, minus the games.

Americans are used to and love football on weekends, and the draft has become an event of its own that has now expanded, for television, to three days.

Except, there are no losers, unlike in a regular game weekend.

The Broncos and other NFL teams do not control what the press write and say, but the teams and the NFL can and always do control their own access and message.

This time of year the NFL message is delivered through the draft, which has come a long way in the past 50 years.

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