he said. I could tell from the way he drawled it out softly that the big Auburn
back had been high on their own list. Detroit was looking for a heavy,
position was 11th in the first round and, with each team allowed an hour to
make its choice, it was long past noon, and 10 good players later, when our
turn came and the phone rang on my desk with Detroit's pick.
Nowatzke," Bill Ford said. "We're picking Tom Nowatzke." The
connection was poor and the name arrived as a blur.
again," I said. "How do you spell it?"
There was a
humming of laughter at the other tables, and I had to cover an ear to get the
swatch of consonants in the name straight. I wrote it down and took my slip up
to the podium, and he was announced by Commissioner Rozelle.
Not long after,
Nowatzke himself came in with a Detroit official. He was in New York to receive
an award. I looked at him carefully. If he had been a draft choice for another
team I would have been impressed enough—a personable-looking athlete with the
power indicated along the width and line of his shoulders—but a first draft
choice for Detroit, I thought, my team, should have been a titanic figure,
carrying away the door in his hand as he entered the room, just by accident
ripping it off the hinges, apologizing then, bobbing his head not only to
apologize but to clear the ceiling, and when he got to the lights, the
interviewer looking up at him nervously, he would take the stick microphone to
say into it, "Well, gosh, folks," and it would snap in his hands like a
But then not long
after Nowatzke's departure my enthusiasm for all things Detroit began to flag.
The hours stretched on endlessly. The rounds in the draft (20 altogether) moved
slowly, each team using its allotted time to the limit to make sure through its
network of representatives and "hand-holders" that its choice would
sign his contract. It was apparent the session was going to last long into the
next day. Football itself began to seem distasteful, epitomized by the
ex-players from the scouting pools wandering about the room in their
shirtsleeves. The long hours seemed to have no effect on them. The super-fans,
slouched wearily at their tables, all seemed scraggly, a sheen of beard
appearing on their faces as the night went on, and the dawn came finally, and
the sound of traffic began to drift up from the streets. One of the
representatives gave a slight groan, and stretching out on the floor next to
his table he slept with his phone on his chest. The scouts grinned and pointed
at him. They were from the New York- Green Bay- St. Louis- Cleveland-Baltimore
scouting combine (there are three such pools in the NFL), and every once in a
while one of them would be called to a team table to advise the home office
Baltimore, say—at the table just in front of me, and the scout would amble up,
humming, with a stiff loose-leaf notebook with colored tabs along the side, and
when he sat down the air cushion would whistle shrilly under him. He would say
to the coach on the other end of the phone:
Who? Bailey Gimbel?" He would refer to his book. "A real fine kid, this
boy. Big! Oh, run to 260, still growing, quick as a cat—oh, he'll do the 50 in
under six, for sure, in gear. And attitude, he's got an attitude you don't have
to worry about, real beautiful attitude. Hard-nose."
That was the gist
of it—longer, of course, the patois rich, with the emphasis always on speed
("in gear" had nothing to do with a shift of speed but with racing in
football togs), "hands" came into it always ("he's got a great pair
of hands") and always height and weight. In the early hours of Sunday
morning, my attitude sour and indifferent, with nothing to do, even the
television sets with their soap operas dead in the next room, the place quiet,
I found myself working up a plot to call the home office, whispering sharply
into the phone as follows: "Bill, this is...ah, Bill. The scout group here
has been talking about a real good kid—not drafted yet..."