Best fish do not always come from the biggest pondPosted: Thursday April 18, 2002 3:37 PM
When it comes to drafting the cream of the crop, there are just so many Miamis, Florida States, Notre Dames and Tennessees. To that end, NFL scouts work the far corners of the fields of play to unearth the true diamonds in the rough, small-school players with big-time potential.
On the eve of the 35th anniversary of the first combined AFL-NFL draft, CNNSI.com has compiled the All-Time Small-School Team. The criteria is simple: Players who were drafted from colleges that don't remain on the tip of your tongue when debating BCS standings. Also, with the expansion Houston Texans joining the fray this year, bringing the NFL roster to 32 teams, the players had to be among the first 32 players selected in a previous draft.
When choosing this team it became clear that the Steelers of the 1960s (46-85-7 under four head coaches) laid the groundwork for the four-time Super Bowl champs of the next decade. In fact, the cornerstones of the Steelers' 1969 and '70 drafts anchor the All-Time Small-School Team: Joe Greene and Terry Bradshaw.
Best small-school defensive pick: Joe Greene , DT, No. 4 overall by Pittsburgh in 1969 from North Texas State -- Greene was the block that first-year Steelers head coach Chuck Noll built on in '69, having the distinction of being his first-ever draft pick. And though the Steelers won just once that season, Greene was an integral part of a Pittsburgh dynasty that rolled to seven divisional titles and eight consecutive playoff berths in the eight-year span from 1972-79.
In his 12 NFL seasons, all as a Steeler, Greene was one of the league's most feared defenders. Nicknamed "Mean Joe," he went to 10 Pro Bowls and twice was named the NFL's defensive player of the year in 1972 and '74. And who can forget how his fame grew when he starred in a wildly popular '70s Coke commercial, tossing his jersey to an admiring young fan?
Playing before the sack was an official NFL statistic, Greene wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks and was the most accomplished member of the legendary Steelers defensive front four. The Steel Curtain defense was at its best in 1976, when Pittsburgh began 1-4 but then made the playoffs by reeling off nine consecutive victories, five by shutout.
Greene was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987, the first of nine Steelers players or coaches from Pittsburgh's glory-era teams to be enshrined. He played in 181 games in 12 seasons, missing just nine.
Though the Steelers of the '70s are correctly remembered for winning on the strength of their defense and potent rushing game, Bradshaw was a steady, play-making presence and a team leader throughout Pittsburgh's run of four Super Bowl titles in six seasons (1974-79). He was the Super Bowl MVP in the final two of those championships, Super Bowl XIII and XIV.
Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989, Bradshaw was a three-time Pro Bowl selection and finished with 27,989 yards passing and 212 touchdown passes. He also threw 210 career interceptions, many because he was never shy about trusting his strong right arm to thread the ball into tight, well-covered portions of the field.
Early in his career, Bradshaw also was a consistent threat as a running quarterback. He gained 2,257 yards on 444 carrries over the course of his 14 NFL seasons, including 32 touchdowns.
One little-remembered footnote: Pittsburgh went 1-13 in 1969 to earn the first overall pick that it used to select Bradshaw. Chicago was 1-13 as well that season, but lost a coin toss to the Steelers.