The draft is now upon us, from pre-draft through the three days of player selection.
The 78th National Football League draft is again taking place at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City, covered live by the NFL Network and by ESPN, more thoroughly than I ever imagined when I attended my very first draft as a reporter in 1973.
This time of year always kick starts memories of my first draft, which I actually did not work as the Broncos’ public relations director but as a young reporter for KBTR newsradio that year.
This was before the Federal Communications Commission ruled that there could not be radio-TV combined ownership in a single market, and each of the three major television stations in Denver had a major radio station as well.
What is now KUSA was KBTV-KBTR, and the radio side was a true big time news operation, with today’s equal, for comparison purposes, only existing in New York, LA, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
I was real excited and remember so many moments form the first NFL draft of which I was a part.
John Ralston was the Denver Broncos General Manager and Head Coach at that time, and while a few years later his coaching acumen would come into question and he was gone, no one ever had a bad word about his ability to recognize and select college talent.
That 1973 Broncos draft was 17 rounds, and Denver had 19 selections over the two-day period.
That draft, more than any other up to that point in team history, laid the draft foundation for the Broncos to become winners, and eventually, champions.
Denver went into that draft never having had a winning season in 13 years of play, but Ralston led the Broncos to a 7-5-2 record and the first winning campaign in team history that year.
Four years later the Broncos were in the Super Bowl, with new Head Coach Red Miller, but Ralston’s drafts were instrumental in the building of this team.
Nine members of the 1973 draft class made the Broncos, and five of them were significant players here for the better part of a decade.
The first round choice was Otis Armstrong, who went on to have two 1,000-yard seasons for the Broncos.
In the second round Denver selected Barney Chavous, a terrific player against the run at defensive end as well as a solid pass rusher opposite Lyle Alzado.
In the third round Paul Howard was selected, and he became a fixture in the Broncos’ first championship offensive line.
Perhaps the most inspirational defensive player in Denver’s first half century of play was linebacker Tom Jackson, and he was selected as the 88th pick overall, Denver’s fourth round choice.
So many people now only know of TJ as an announcer on ESPN, but he was a Pro Bowl linebacker before that TV career ever began.
In the seventh round Denver drafted USC defensive end John Grant, a real good athlete who had a nice career on the defensive line.
When the Broncos won that first American Football Conference championship and earned that rip to Super Bowl XII, Armstrong, Chavous, Howard and Jackson was key starters, with Grant an important alternate as part of the Broncos’ defensive substitution package.
The previous year, 1972, Ralston had drafted Riley Odoms, who went to five Pro Bowls as a Denver tight end, and the next two years Denver’s first round choices were Randy Gradishar and Louis Wright.
In 1975, the same year of Louis Wright’s selection, Denver added wide receiver/kick returner Rick Upchurch (round four), nose tackle Rubin Carter (round five) and safety Steve Foley (round eight).
I remember arriving for the second day of the `1975 draft and casually asking if there were any late round guys who might be potential players, and I was told the tam had its eye on a young quarterback at Tulane because they thought he might be able to convert to safety. That was Steve Foley, one of the best safeties in team history.
Talk about cornerstones of a championship franchise.
So it starts with the draft, and here’s hoping the Broncos have that kind of success this week, building for the future and supplementing a championship present all at the same time.
Tags: NFL Draft