The grand illusion
Rosenhaus admits to McGahee-related media manipulationPosted: Monday April 28, 2003 1:49 AM
MIAMI (AP) -- As the television camera showed an anxious Willis McGahee waiting to be taken during the first round of the draft, his agent phoned him and told him to pretend he was talking to an NFL team.
The agent, Drew Rosenhaus, was sitting next to McGahee at the time.
"I didn't want it to make it look like our phones weren't ringing," Rosenhaus said Sunday. "Willis and I had a little chat to create the perception that we weren't waiting for teams to call us."
Rosenhaus believes such gamesmanship helped McGahee become a first-round choice despite a knee injury that was once considered career-threatening. The Buffalo Bills took the former Miami Hurricanes running back Saturday with the 23rd pick.
The Bills dispute that Rosenhaus influenced their decision.
"I've known Drew Rosenhaus for 20 years, and Drew does a great job for his clients," Bills president Tom Donahoe said. "He says a lot of things ... and as good as Drew does his job as an agent, he doesn't do our job.
"There's nothing that he said that had any influence on our decision. We made our decision based on the ability of Willis McGahee and the medical information that we had. Nothing else."
McGahee's recovery was widely heralded as miraculous, even though it's still in progress, and Rosenhaus said he manipulated the media.
"The media were a huge help," Rosenhaus said. "The Bills were not going to draft a player based on the media, but it helps a team if the player they take has a lot of popularity and notoriety, and in Willis' case, it's a sensational story.
"I was trying to create a scenario where Willis was a popular pick because he was the No. 1 story in the NFL draft. That's my job. Mission accomplished."
McGahee became a big story even though no one knows yet whether he'll be able to play this year, or whether he'll regain the skills that helped him score 28 touchdowns and rush for 1,686 yards last season.
The Bills deny they were duped.
"Our doctors personally examined McGahee two different times," Donahoe said. "We had the MRIs, we had the notes from the surgery. We had all the information we felt that we needed to make the decision on him."
Rosenhaus has long been one of the better-known agents in pro football. Detractors call him unscrupulous, but clients consider him shrewd, and he's quick to point out that he puts his players first.
That was the case with McGahee, who tore three ligaments in his left knee in Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Rosenhaus, who said in February that McGahee would be a first-round pick despite the injury, now concedes the prediction was an attempt to help his client.
"I was the only one on the planet who said it, other than Willis," Rosenhaus said. "That caused a stir, and people became more interested. We gained a lot of momentum."
As the buzz built, the story was easy for Rosenhaus to sell because McGahee was a sympathetic figure. His speedy recovery also helped, beginning when he walked with only a slight limp at the NFL scouting combine six weeks after surgery.
McGahee's therapist described the recovery as "remarkable." Rosenhaus spread the news.
"The trick," Rosenhaus said, "was to change the debate from whether he was going to play again to whether he was going to be a first-round pick, and from whether he was going to play this year to whether he was going to play at the start of the year. The perception was manipulated to help Willis as much as I could."