- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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And although it was a bad year for receivers, it was a good year for quarterbacks, most notably Terry Bradshaw and Mike Phipps. The Browns needed a quarterback. Bill Nelsen's knees were had. Ironically, the Browns had finished too high in the standings to hope for a draft of Phipps or Bradshaw. Miami. Struggling through expansion, had the third-worst won-lost record in pro football. The draft priority is in reverse order to the standing of the clubs. Thomas was due to draft third in the first round.
He let the word get out: Miami is willing to trade its No. 1 draft. Writers kept asking. "What do you need, Joe?" and Joe kept answering. "A wide receiver." Calls began to come in. Players were offered in bunches. Thomas kept saying no thank you. Homer Jones was mentioned. Al Denson's name came up. Thomas listened. The deals didn't mesh. For a while he had the feeling he might be able to get Lance Alworth from San Diego. Sid Gillman offered Dickie Post, a running back, instead. "You must be kidding," said Thomas.
In all, Thomas talked to 15 teams. Some were more eager than others. The Browns, he noted, were more eager than anybody. "There's only one player I'm interested in," he told Art Modell, the Cleveland owner. "Who, Warfield?" Modell said. "Yeah," said Thomas. Modell laughed.
But the calls kept coming. Thomas put it on the line: Cleveland wasn't going to get Phipps or Bradshaw in the draft because the Steelers were first up and they'd take one or the other. Green Bay was second and. privately, had indicated it would take Mike McCoy, the tackle from Notre Dame. Miami was third. Thomas would take the quarterback left by the Steelers, and then, since he already had Griese, take a chance on a trade for a good receiver. He indicated that if Cleveland didn't act, there might not be a tomorrow.
Thomas talked for the last time with Modell on the Friday preceding the Tuesday draft. Then he waited. The weekend dragged by. Gillman called once more, offering Post. "Can't do it, Sid, but I might have something going." "Who?" "I cant say." "C'mon. Joe, this is your old coach talking." "All right, but keep it under your hat. Warfield." "Wow." On Monday the call came from Modell: "The trade is on."
"There's no doubt in my mind that Phipps will be a great one." Thomas says now. " Cleveland gets undue criticism for the trade. It was probably the best deal we've made, but it was also one Cleveland had to make. You build with a quarterback, and the Browns needed a quarterback. Would I have made the same deal if I'd been in their position? I don't know, really. But I wouldn't have slept much that week."
In Thomas' fourth year at Minnesota, the Vikings tied for second in their conference and challenged for the title. In 1965, when Miami was granted a franchise in the AFL, Thomas was the first man hired by Joe Robbie. In the Dolphins' fifth year, under the fresh leadership of Coach Don Shula, the Dolphins made the conference playoffs and are strong Super Bowl contenders now.
The Miami lineup is a testament to Thomas' drafting ability, his consistency in making first-round choices count (Griese, Csonka, Offensive Tackle Doug Crusan, Defensive End Bill Stanfill), his ability to draft quality in depth. Among the starters. Safety Jake Scott of Georgia was a seventh-round choice and had gone to Canada to play, but Thomas kept after him. Twilley was a 12th-round choice, as was Linebacker Mike Kolen. Cornerback Lloyd Mumphord was a 16; Guard Bob Kuechenberg and Defensive Tackle Manny Fernandez were free agents.
"You should be willing to try anything once," said Thomas, pouring coffee, "even if you don't think it'll work. There are no real guidelines. In 1967 we conducted a tryout camp. Eighty-six guys came out. What a collection! Some of them had three or four kids. Most were in pitiful shape. None made it. I got a letter from the wife of one of them. She said, 'Ever since the Dolphins came to town, my husband has said he can play better than the guys you've got. You gave him a tryout, and he proved how good he is once and for all. Thanks for shutting him up.'
"The big thing is still the draft, and you draft two ways: for needs at certain positions, and for the best athletes regardless of position. I have them rated both ways. I make lists on separate sheets—the best athletes regardless of position, the best athletes by position, Linebackers, 1-2-3; halfbacks, 1-2-3, and so forth. I go in looking for what we need, but if I get a chance to get a player who is tougher to find, a skill position player like a quarterback or a receiver, I grab him. For example, in 1968 we were into the fifth round, looking for a defensive back. We had drafted Csonka No. 1. We felt secure at running back. We had three or four pretty good ones, and now Csonka. But in the fifth round I looked up and Jim Kiick was still sitting there undrafted. I'd been watching Kiick for three years. Ed spent two days at Wyoming practices his senior year and he'd impressed me. Van Brock I in said he was too fat and too slow when Kiick was in the All-Star camp later that year, but my answer for that is: can the guy run with the damn football? As far as I was concerned Kiick was a winner. We drafted Kiick. He was too good to pass up. And if I knew then what I know now, we'd have grabbed him sooner."