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PAY-OFF FOR THE PROS
Piers Anderton
February 21, 1955
In this smoke-filled room coaches and owners of football's big-league teams gather once a year in midwinter to parcel out among themselves the pick of the college crop. Here is the inside story of those 16 nightmare hours
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February 21, 1955

Pay-off For The Pros

In this smoke-filled room coaches and owners of football's big-league teams gather once a year in midwinter to parcel out among themselves the pick of the college crop. Here is the inside story of those 16 nightmare hours

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Suppose that you own a business worth $1 million and suppose that in the space of one day each year you have to sit down with your closest competitors and make several decisions that could conceivably ruin you utterly and for good.

This might be a nightmare, but it is exactly the situation that confronts all the owners of clubs in the National (professional) Football League every January when they gather with their coaching staffs to divide among themselves the fresh crop of football players whose classes will graduate from college the following June.

This year, for the San Francisco 49ers there were shadows to add to the nightmare. Owners Tony and Vic Morabito had fired their long-time coach Buck Shaw at the end of last season after the highly rated 49ers failed for the second successive year to win the championship. In Shaw's place they had hired Norman (Red) Strader and had given him one order—win. These were the elements that had crystallized January 27 at the Hotel Warwick in New York City when the NFL met for its annual player draft.

Strader knew these draft meetings from other jobs in pro football. Twelve tables, one for each team, are set up in the hotel's banquet room, and at 10 a.m. the club owners, their coaches, assistant coaches and business managers sit down to a long day of business. For the next 16 hours each club chooses the players it hopes will make it the strongest, and therefore probably the most profitable, team in the league.

These 16 hours are the pay-off of months of elaborate espionage in every U.S. university, college and junior college, of traveling through 48 states to cross-examine football players, of years of trying to uncover what scouts of the other professional teams have reported.

The night before the meeting, Strader sits in Suite 1903 in the Warwick with his assistant coaches, Phil Bengston, Joe Vetrano and Red Hickey. On the living room tables are the guarded files of information built up over the months by the 49er scouts—four large binders and two card index files revealing the physiques and psychology of 1,500 football players.

Strader brushes off a table a heap of telegrams from players—"Definitely interested in playing...." "Draft status clear, would play for 49ers...."

The master list is broken down into vertical columns headed "Linebackers," "Defensive Backs," "Tackles," etc. The players are listed in the order of quality assigned by Strader and his staff on the basis of the scout reports. Each player is stripped to his pads in these binders.

An assistant coach at Georgia Tech lays bare Center Larry Morris to the Los Angeles Rams in this series of clich�s and revealing phrases: "Once-in-a-lifetime player, could make any college team, only missed one game through injury, wants to kill ball carrier when tackling and nearly does, in ROTC and will-be available."

There will always be the up-to-the-minute report on his military draft status. The draft gives a club exclusive bargaining rights to a player only; it cannot guarantee that the player will ever sign a contract with the club, a concern that sometimes drives owners and coaches half mad with anguish. "Married with four children" was the jubilant notation on a Rams choice.

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