Bruce Jenner, John Wayne and a Newborn Baby: 18 Curious Draft Picks
It's a guarantee that in this year's NFL Draft, a future Hall of Famer will be selected after someone who never plays a down in the league. What we can say with equal certainty (well, almost) is that no team will try to draft a newborn baby, select a Hollywood movie star, scout from the back of a trading card, pick a Nutri-Systems doctor/poker buddy or even a barefoot kicker at the top of the first round.
On occasion, teams have gone to great lengths to get it right and failed. Other times, long ago, there were so many rounds in the draft and so few serious candidates.
A look back at some highlights from pro sports drafts gone by:
When they said they were drafting the "best available athlete" they really meant it.
1. The Kansas City Kings picked Olympic decathlete champion Bruce Jenner 139th in the 1977 NBA draft. Jenner never played basketball beyond high school and -- as ESPN.com points out -- is regrettably remembered for sinking a basket in the "YMCA" sequence of the film flop Can't Stop the Music in 1980.
2. The Chicago Bulls picked the great Olympic sprint and long jump champion Carl Lewis in the 10th round of the 1984 NBA draft. For some reason, Bulls' fans prefer to remember 1984 as the year their team picked Michael Jordan No. 3 overall, one spot behind Portland's choice of 7-1 center Sam Bowie. In Portland, they remember it but refuse to talk about it.
3. While Lewis was also drafted in the 12th round by the Dallas Cowboys, Dave Winfield is the only athlete ever drafted by four leagues -- the NFL, NBA, ABA and Major League Baseball. Drafted fourth overall by the San Diego Padres, Winfield chose wisely and is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
And when he said he was drafting the "most available infant" the league told him he couldn't.
4. Atlanta Hawks GM Pat Williams and his wife had their first son on draft day 1974. To celebrate the event, Williams drafted the boy in the 10th round that night. The NBA voided the selection.
In the "before" and "after" photos he still had no hops.
5. Philadelphia Sixers owner Harold Katz amused himself in the 10th round of the 1983 draft by selecting 49-year-old Norman Horvitz from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. Many have since debated whether Horvitz was a poker pal of Katz's or a doctor with his Nutri-Systems company. Or both.
And now you know why the draft was shortened from seven rounds to three to two.
And, why, you ask did Saints fans wear bags over their heads back in the day?
6. The woeful New Orleans Saints picked barefoot kicker/punter Russell Erxleben No. 11 in 1979. It's one thing to take a kicker that high -- no team ever has -- but two picks later the San Diego Chargers picked great tight end Kellen Winslow. Erxleben kicked four field goals in his NFL career.
On the bright side, they never lacked for gum.
7. To get a read on the NBA expansion draft class in 1970-71, Cleveland Cavaliers coach Bill Fitch gave assistant coach Jim Lessig $20 to buy bubble-gum trading cards. Yep. They studied the player bios on the back to help them in their assessments.
"We laid them all out on Bill's living room floor," Lessig told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
For that but mostly for other reasons, the Cavaliers lost their first 15 games that year, won one and then promptly lost 12 more.
When in doubt, dupe the other team.
8. The Cleveland Browns made Stanford All-American quarterback Bobby Garrett the first overall pick in the 1954 draft. A few weeks into training camp, Browns coach Paul Brown curiously traded him to Green Bay.
Turns out Garrett had a severe stuttering problem -- not conducive to calling plays in the huddle.
"We had to crack him on the back so he could spit out the play," former Packers fullback Fred Cone told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Garrett played only nine games in the NFL.
9. In 1968, the Cowboys chose David McDaniels in part for his outstanding time in the 40. When he was unable time and again to match his speedy effort, the Cowboys did some investigating and determined McDaniels had run 38 yards instead of 40.
So they traded him to Philly.
For Hall of Fame tight end Mike Ditka.
"I don't think the Eagles ever asked about his time, and we sure didn't tell them," Dan Reeves told Michael Knisley of The Sporting News in 1985. "We knew they were looking for a wide receiver. It was after that that Gil Brandt made sure the scouts measured off the full 40 yards."
If only that trade was the one Ditka was most famous for.
10. As head coach of the New Orleans Saints, Ditka traded his entire 1999 draft for Texas running back Ricky Williams. And his first and third picks in the 2000 draft, too, apparently just to show he meant it.
Williams and Ditka appeared on the cover of ESPN The Magazine dressed as a bride and groom under the headline: "For Better or For Worse." Guess which one it was. Hint: neither lasted in New Orleans.
Maybe a plastic duck would've been more appropriate.
11. The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted righthander Bill Bene No. 5 in 1988. Was he wild? You could say that. One batter couldn't though.
At one point, Class A Bakersfield took Bene out of the rotation after he walked 29 in 13 innings. According to Sports Illustrated, coaches thought Bene would benefit from pitching simulated games. He hit the first batter he faced.
Plan B: Dress a plastic mannequin in Dodger blue and prop it up in the bullpen, so Bene could pitch without anyone getting hurt.
SI reports "Bene took to the idea -- drawing a mustache on the doll and dubbing it Harold. He even started getting the ball over the plate."
Not so much. Bene struck out 502 in 516 innings in his minor league career. He walked 543.
What were the odds?
12. The Colts picked Ohio State quarterback Art Schlichter No. 4 overall in 1982. That clipboard he carried on the sideline as a backup? He wasn't charting plays. That's how Schlichter, a notorious compulsive gambler as everyone learned over and over again, kept track of games he'd bet on. Between 1994 and 2006, Schlichter spent time in 44 different jails and prisons. He is under investigation for fraud in an alleged sports ticket scheme.
They wouldn't take no for an answer.
13. BYU offensive tackle Eli Herring told NFL teams in 1995 not to bother drafting him. He had no intention of playing in the league because Sunday is a holy day for devout Mormons. The renegade Raiders -- now, there's a surprise -- went against the grain and picked him anyway. Herring didn't play.
14. UCLA halfback Cal Rossi was the ninth overall pick of the Washington Redskins in 1946. Except he was only a junior and ineligible to play in the league. Having wasted that pick, the Skins drafted him again in 1947. Glitch No. 2: Rossi never had any intentions of playing in the NFL.
He might've taken yes for an answer if somebody had just told him.
15. Norm Michael was the 18th round selection of the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1944 NFL draft, a fact he learned 57 years later when he happened to be reading a list of drafted Syracuse players throughout the school's history.
And napping air traffic controllers are getting a bad name?
16. The Vikings blew their seventh overall pick in 2003 because they let their 15-minute allotment expire. Jacksonville and Carolina got their picks in at No. 7 and No. 8, respectively, before the Vikings snapped out of it.
He wasn't from Duke. He was the Duke.
17. The Atlanta Falcons selected John Wayne in the 17th round of the 1972 draft. According to ESPN.com, NFL Films showed coach Norm Van Brocklin yelling to his staff, "Do we want the roughest, toughest s.o.b. in the draft?!"
Pete Rozelle, apparently no fan of True Grit, disallowed the pick.
The fantasy hockey player.
18. This last story was told by Adam Raymond in the March-April issue of mental_floss magazine:
Like many hockey players drafted in the 11th round of the 1974 NHL Draft, Taro Tsujimoto never actually made it to the big time. But unlike the other players drafted with him, Tsujimoto didn’t exist.
His name is in the record books because of Punch Imlach, the former general manager of the Buffalo Sabres. Imlach was so fed up with tedious late rounds of the draft that he decided to poke some fun at the league. He pulled a Japanese name from the local phone book and made up an imaginary team. Then, he simply told NHL President Clarence Campbell that his draft pick was Taro Tsujimoto of the Tokyo Katanas. Sure, no one had ever heard of Tsujimoto, but that didn’t stop the NHL from making the selection official.
Several weeks later, Imlach revealed his prank, but Sabres fans didn’t care. For years after the draft, Buffalo crowds would break into chants, demanding “We want Taro!”
Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.