"I didn't have to see Joe Montana play 10 games at Notre Dame in 1978 to know I wanted him," Walsh says. "The argument against Montana was he was inconsistent. Maybe it was my impetuous ego, but I felt if I saw him succeed once, he could do it again."
For that reason, Walsh was sold on Rathman, a tough customer from Nebraska, and Haley, a pass rusher from Division I-AA James Madison. Walsh had watched only a single film of each. "I saw Rathman take a screen pass, break two or three tackles physically and run 60 yards," Walsh says. "He was an absolutely terrific blocker, and the thing we'd never had was the massive blocking fullback. I knew Rathman could be that player."
And Haley? Says Walsh, "I saw a film of him, against Georgia Southern, where he broke through the line on an option play, stopped the quarterback, forced him to pitch the ball, and tackled the running back for a three-yard loss."
None of Walsh's 1986 target players was projected as a first-round pick, and only Roberts, a part-timer at Alabama, figured to go in the second round. That was good for the 49ers, who wouldn't select until the 18th pick of the first round. They had one pick in each of the next three rounds and none in the fifth.
Walsh learned his draft technique from Paul Brown in Cincinnati, where Walsh had served as an assistant for eight years, and from Al Davis in Oakland, where he was an assistant in 1966. The key, Walsh had learned, was to have one person who, though he would delegate responsibility and listen to advice, would be the unquestioned boss and final decision maker. For the 49ers, Walsh was that person.
Manning the phones at the team's draft headquarters was 49er general manager John McVay. Picking by committee, McVay believes, is the major reason many teams fail to improve themselves in the draft. "A lot of teams are virtually unable to make a trade," says McVay. "They've invested so much time and money in the draft that they don't want to make a spur-of-the-moment decision. They need to justify all their efforts. If they trade, they might be wrong—and so they don't trade, even though it might be the right thing to do. And there are other factors. Some owners like to dabble in the draft. Some personnel guys are making big money, and they've got to have input. You can almost go into a stupor deciding things on teams like that."
Draft Day '86 began calmly at the 49ers' former offices, which are 30 minutes south of Candlestick Park. Walsh sat at a long wooden desk at the front of a large meeting room, his back to a 16-foot-wide blackboard. To his left, down the length of the wall, were the offensive draft charts, assembled by position. To Walsh's right were the defensive charts. On the back wall, opposite Walsh, was space for a team-by-team draft list. In front of that wall sat 11 assistant coaches.
In front and to the right of Walsh sat the team's six scouts. At the table to Walsh's left was McVay and personnel directors Tony Razzano and Allan Webb. In the middle of the room was a telephone, linked to draft headquarters in New York City, and a computer containing all player and draft information, linked to team owner Edward DeBartolo's corporate headquarters in Youngstown, Ohio. In one corner of the room was a speaker phone, the line open all day to the Youngstown office. Dillman sat quietly at a desk next to the computer operator.
Ten picks into the first round, Walsh asked area scout Mike Lombardi, who is now pro personnel director of the Cleveland Browns, to go to the blackboard behind him and write down the names of the three players the 49ers would like to choose from for their first pick. Lombardi wrote in chalk:
JOHN L. WILLIAMS, FB, FLORIDA RONNIE HARMON, RB, IOWA GERALD ROBINSON, DE, AUBURN