Rick Upchurch had no clue the Broncos were interested in drafting him in 1975. They hadn't been to his workouts, unlike scouts from the Steelers and Chiefs. But the Broncos' intel must have had a pretty good bead on him from what they saw the former Minnesota wide receiver do on the field and what they heard about him.
Unlike today's draft process where cameras and scouts swarm around players at the combine or collegiate pro days, the events were not covered by media.
"When I was at the University of Minnesota and they came in and just timed me," Upchurch told me over the phone on Wednesday. "Everybody just came in and timed me. Then Denver Broncos didn't even show up. I had no idea that they were even interested in me. When they came and timed me, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Kansas City Chiefs."
Apparently his times and workout numbers were impressive, as he would find out.
"They just said 'You just made yourself some money'," Upchurch said. "And that was the last thing I heard."
The next thing he knew, Denver came calling in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. It was a different time; Upchurch didn't really know where Denver was and he said he didn't even realize they had a team, which just shows how far the franchise has come. But his teammate, then-Minnesota quarterback Tony Dungy, pulled out a map, showed him where it was and giving him a glimpse of the city that he would fall in love with as soon as he saw the mountains and experienced the fans.
Perhaps the Broncos' scouts and front office had a hint of what was to come, but Upchurch was about to rocket into the league record books. He would eventually sit atop league marks for punts returned for touchdowns and career punt return yardage.
Looking back on his draft and comparing it to the glitz and glamour of the event today, he remarked upon the size of the draft before it was culled to just seven rounds and the impact that had upon teams' outlooks on the draft process.
"...You remember, you have 17 rounds back then," Upchurch began. "You had over 100 players coming into training camp in those days. So you had a lot of people to sift through and to find out who's going to stay and who's going to go and today they don't have that many rounds; they just have seven rounds and so it wasn't the festivities that it is today. [...] There wasn't an NFL Network, there was none of all this stuff going on. They said 'If you can play the game of football and you can run and you can catch a ball, then you can play football.'"
The Ring of Fame wide receiver and special teams star will return to the NFL Draft as the Broncos' 2015 representative to take part in the festivities and announce the Broncos' second-round pick, a role he's overjoyed to have.
"This is truly a blessing, first and foremost, and I am honored to be representing the Denver Broncos at the draft this year," he said.
As for what he thinks the Broncos might do with their early picks, Upchurch says he's looking at the trenches.
"You know, I'm really looking at their offensive and defensive line. You can never have enough offensive and defensive linemen. And you can never have enough running backs. As we see, running backs get injured and what they're doing with running backs today is totally different: You have to be able to catch out of the backfield, you've got to be able to block, be able to stay in the game and be productive," Upchurch said.
"So there's a lot of things that have changed since the 1970s and the 1980s as far as the needs for teams. But I would say the Denver Broncos certainly need their offensive and defensive line revamped. That's where the game starts and then you work from there."