In line for tonight’s big NFL news: Who will be the 2011 #1 overall draft pick? Will Cam Newton be it? Will the #1 moniker go to a defensive player? Will the top draft pick ever play in the NFL?
No, this isn’t a reference to the still looming NFL/players labor conflict. This is a reference to a much simpler time. The 2011 NFL Draft, the 76th of its kind, stands in stark contrast with the 1936 NFL Draft, the 1st of its kind. Today, the Draft is huge and is surrounded by constant news coverage, in-depth analysis, and year-round predictions. The 1936 Draft was a little different. Yes, there were nine rounds, but there were also only nine picks in each round. It was not held in Radio City Music Hall, or even in New York City, and there was no television coverage. And with teams like the Pirates and Dodgers, the direct correlation to the modern Draft continues to fade in oblivion.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the 1936 Draft and the modern Draft is that rather than signing a huge contract with millions of dollars guaranteed, the #1 overall draft pick, the very first college player ever drafted, never even signed an NFL contract. The Philadelphia Eagles used the first ever draft pick to select Jay Berwanger of the University of Chicago. Berwanger was a star multi-sport athlete for the Maroons and even won the first ever Downtown Athletic Club Trophy (renamed the Heisman Trophy the following year). But Berwanger indicated he had no desire to play for the Eagles and his rights were consequently traded to the Chicago Bears. Even Hall of Fame owner-coach George Halas was unable to convince Berwanger to play professional football. Berwanger went on to become a sports writer and eventually a manufacturer of plastic automobile parts.
There have been plenty of other top draft pick busts in the past 75 years. Will tonight’s #1 pick be a future Hall of Famer? Will he ever start a game? At least in 1936, the Eagles did not blow millions of dollars to find out like the Panthers may do tonight.