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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.