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Sacco Sez: The bonus picks of the NFL Draft

The NFL Draft is one of the most exciting three-day periods of the year for our fans and teams.

Except for game days, it is the most eventful period and certainly the most watched in the calendar year. I love it and so do millions of fans.

But it was not always such a big deal.

Once upon a time I was talking to former NFL public relations man George McFadden, who had stints both with the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos, and George noted that "back in the 1960's some television stations and newspapers did not even send reporters to the team headquarters to cover the draft."

He continued: "We did it by conference call among the teams and league headquarters, just as now, and when it was over we typed up a press release and sent it out, hoping that we were get a few lines of coverage in the papers."

Back during the time between 1947 and 1958, the owners devised a bonus selection at the end of the annual draft in which the team making the first choice would be determined by picking paper slips out of a hat. 

Not exactly high tech.

The system was first used in the 1947 draft and was set up so that each of the teams would get one bonus pick during the next decade.

Once a team got the bonus choice, they could not get it again until every other team had a chance.

Like most things, it had its pluses and minuses.

Quarterbacks were selected with the bonus picks six times, but the most successful of those choices converted to halfback in the NFL. That was Notre Dame quarterback Paul Hornung, who went from Notre Dame quarterback to Green Bay halfback. He would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Hornung was the only bonus quarterback selection to make the Hall of Fame, but two-way player Chuck Bednarik also made the Hall after Philadelphia selected him with a bonus pick in 1949.

There was never anybody tougher than "Concrete Charlie," who helped hand the Packers' Vince Lombardi his only loss in an NFL championship game.

That was the only title game that ever pitted two bonus picks who both made the Hall of Fame, with Bednarik facing off against Hornung.

Two of the bonus picks even had Broncos connections.

In 1955, the Baltimore Colts selected quarterback George Shaw, who finished his career in Denver after he was replaced by Johnny Unitas. In fact, Shaw is still in the Broncos' record books for the longest touchdown pass in Broncos history, a 97-yard touchdown throw to Jerry Tarr at Boston on September 21, 1962. 

In 1956, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected defensive back Gary Glick from Colorado A&M, which is now Colorado State University. After his playing career in the NFL, Glick was the defensive backfield coach for the Broncos in 1962.

Glick has a special trivia note in team history as the first person to pose with the orange helmet when the Broncos went to orange, blue and white in 1962. Glick posed holding the new helmet on the cover of Empire Magazine, which was the Sunday magazine of the Denver Post. That photo was the first color shot of the new helmet.

After the bonus system concluded a full rotation in 1958, a congressional subcommittee studying professional sports suggested to NFL Commissioner Bert Bell that the system was a lottery and should be eliminated.

Bell had discussions with the NFL owners and the bonus system ended, having run as part of the draft from 1947 through 1958.

The system had ended – but it's impact on pro football would never disappear.

Canton and a series of world championship trophies are proof of that.

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