Archive for Sunday, April 23, 2006

Don’t discount luck in NFL Draft

April 23, 2006

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— First of all, the Colts' coaching staff wanted to draft Dan Marino. Can you believe that? Their head coach, Frank Kush, had coached Marino at the Senior Bowl before the 1983 draft and fell in love with his arm, his mind, the complete gunslinger package.

So when John Elway kept telling the Colts he wouldn't sign with them, no matter what, Kush went to Colts owner Robert Irsay with a simple plea: Forget Elway. Let's pick Marino with our No. 1 overall pick.

Irsay shot back a simple warning. Colts assistant Mike Westhoff remembers it sounding like this to Kush: "If you pick Marino, you're fired."

"I guess that decided that," Marino said Wednesday.

The time has come, once again, to say why no one talking about the NFL Draft really has any idea what they're talking about. It's an annual column, one of life's constants through the years, like watching Bob Barker on The Price Is Right.

Oh, teams have become more sophisticated in examining players since Marino's draft, because more money is involved. And the people talking in the media about which player's stock is rising, and falling, come armed with statistics, indexes, charts, interviews and film breakdown of combine workouts that makes for interesting viewing and reading.

But right up there with Newton's Law, Pythagoras' Theorem and Beethoven's Fifth comes this sports principle: The louder someone talks about the NFL Draft, the less they understand it.

In a year where ranking three quarterbacks is the story, there's a timeless rock-paper-scissors game of luck involved. It's there in deciding who will survive among recent high picks: Alex Smith, Joey Harrington and David Carr. It was there with the top three picks from 1999: Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith.

It was there when you sit back and listen to the story of the greatest quarterback draft the NFL has ever seen. After the Colts, Kansas City was the next team needing a quarterback. It picked seventh. Its coach, John Mackovic, flew in to Pittsburgh three days before the draft and told Marino that Kansas City would either take him or Penn State quarterback Todd Blackledge.

"He put me through a workout, throwing the ball," Marino said. "Then he went to Penn State and met with Todd."

The Chiefs took Blackledge. What, his five-step drop scored higher?

"I don't want to say anything, because Todd and I are good friends," Marino said.

Buffalo took Jim Kelly, which worked out fine for them. New England took Tony Eason, which didn't. Marino's hometown Steelers took a nose tackle, Gabriel Rivera, and for years Steelers owner Dan Rooney would mutter something about his scouting department whenever he saw Marino.

Was it Marino's disappointing senior season? Was it worries about his knee? Was it his Wonderlic score?

The New York Jets had the 24th pick. They had talked with Marino before the draft.

"About family, friends, stuff just to get to know you more," he said.

The Jets picked Ken O'Brien. "Who's that?" Don Shula asked his scouting department.

That left Marino for the Dolphins and a history lesson for everyone about every draft: Sometimes an owner gets in the way, sometimes a coach misreads the situation, sometimes a scouting department just goes another way, and sometimes it's just plain, blind, dumb luck.

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