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The NFL Draft: Oh how times have changed

By: Nick Johns

Not only was Jay Berwanger the first ever Heisman Trophy winner but he was the first ever draft pick and first player to reject the NFL after selecting him.

Not only was Jay Berwanger the first ever Heisman Trophy winner but he was the first ever draft pick and first player to reject the NFL after selecting him.

Welcome back to my column, which they apparently named “Down Goes Frazier.” To any new readers, this column is devoted to the historic moments in sports that nobody else talks about and explains why they are significant. You’ll see what I mean, just keep reading.

A lot happened in the last month, Jason Collins becoming the first openly gay active player in a big 4 sport, the NFL FINALLY realizes Tim Tebow has no place on any roster, and we watched Geno Smith sit painfully in the green room as he fell out of the first day of the NFL draft. The draft was definitely the must-see event this month for football fans, but where did it all start? Let’s take a look at where it came from with the very first NFL draft.

The first NFL draft took place in 1936. By today’s standards the first NFL draft was like a fantasy football draft. And not even a good one where there’s beer and a 9 foot sub. It was just a bunch of team representatives in front of a chalkboard with 90 players listed on it. There were 9 teams at the time, and 9 rounds. For those of you who, like me, are horrible at math, that makes 81 players selected.

Today, every amateur football player has dreams of being the number 1 overall pick, but in 1936 number 1 overall draft pick Jay Berwanger, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, turned down the Eagles contract offer. His contract rights were traded to the Chicago Bears and he refused their contract offer as well in order to maintain amateur status so that he could compete as an Olympic decathlete. In total, only 26 of the 81 players drafted actually signed contracts to play in the NFL in the 1936 season.

NFL teams of the time had no scouting staff, so teams relied on stat lines, testimonials from college coaches, and print media to determine a player’s ability. Of the 26 players to sign in the NFL, only 17 played beyond the 1936 season and only 12 remained in the league for more than 2 season. There were, however four Hall Of Fame players to come out of the inaugural draft class: Joe Stydahar, T, West Virginia, 6th overall, Alphonse “Tuffy” Leemans, B, Georgia, 18th overall, Wayne Millner, E, Notre Dame, 65th overall, and Dan Fortmann, G, Colgate, 78th overall.

The draft has come a long way since then. It’s hard to believe with the media blitz around the draft and the emotion and exhilaration that comes with being selected number 1 overall (unless you’re Eli Manning or John Elway, but those are completely different stories) it’s hard to believe that the first player ever drafted in the NFL, or any of the 55 players that passed on contracts, wanted nothing to do with it. Oh how times have changed.

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