NFL Draft's strangest moments ever, from Bo Jackson to John Wayne
The NFL Draft, one of the biggest events of the year for football fans, is dissected about a hundred different ways. That wasn't always the case — hype and nonstop coverage has grown exponentially in the age of social media.
If something strange happens in this era of the NFL Draft — as exemplified by the Laremy Tunsil saga of a few years ago — it will be on social media in less than a minute. The craziest happenings back in the day may have slipped through the cracks without the social safety net, and that's why we're bringing them back to light.
So beginning with Tunsil and traveling through time to John Wayne's draft day, here are the strangest moments in draft history.
1 Honorable mention: CFL drafted a dead player — twice
Although our list is about NFL Draft oddities, this from the Canadian Football League was too strange not to include — the CFL in back-to-back years selected a player who had already passed away — and not as an honorary notion.
The first was in 1995 when the Ottawa Rough Riders selected Derrell Robertson, who had died in a car accident the year before, in the fourth round.
"I don't know how it happened," Ottawa coach Jim Gilstrap told the Ottawa Sun at the time. "The league didn't know until we told them. And we didn't know until a week ago when we couldn't find him."
It happened again in 1996, when the Montreal Alouettes selected James Eggink in the fifth round, but they later found out the defensive end died of cancer the previous year.
2 The latest lunacy: Laremy Tunsil's draft disaster
The 2016 NFL Draft had not even started when top prospect and Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil saw his stock drop precipitously. Why? Because a video surfaced on his (hacked) Twitter account — a video which featured Tunsil smoking a bong through a gas mask.
The video caused several teams to steer clear before the Dolphins finally ended the free fall by picking Tunsil at No. 13. But somehow that wasn't the end of this saga. Minutes later, a second social media hack-attack led to private text messages being revealed on Tunsil's Instagram — messages which revealed that Ole Miss coaches had helped Tunsil pay for rent, among other expenses.
The drama only escalated when Tunsil totally owned up to the text messages. Then Roger Goodell seemed positively giddy about watching a young man get humiliated on television. Everyone's No. 1 suspect for hacking the accounts came out with a strong denial. And after all this, Tunsil suffered a strange allergic reaction before his first Dolphins press conference.
What a way to start a career.
3 Bucs selected wrong person in first round
A communication error led to the Buccaneers selecting the wrong person in the first round of the 1982 draft.
Tampa Bay was deciding between defensive end Booker Reese and guard Sean Farrell for 17th overall pick. Equipment manager Pat Marcuccillo was given both names and told to wait as management decided on whom to pick.
The Bucs, decided on Reese, but that’s not what Marcuccillo heard. Personnel executive Ken Herock talked about the process with Sports Illustrated.
"We thought we needed both of those players, but after we mulled it over and discussed it, the selection was to go with Booker Reese," Herock told SI. "So I told Pat, I said, ‘Listen, Pat, you’ve got two names there.’ I said ‘We’re not going with Sean Farrell, we’re going with Booker Reese. Turn it in.’ But he didn’t hear the Booker Reese part of it because of the noise. He took it that we were going with Sean Farrell and turned it in."
Whoops. And the story doesn’t end there. The Bucs were so sure about Reese’s talent that they traded a future first-round pick to select him when he fell to the second round.
Reese was a bust, but Farrell had a respectable 11-year NFL career.
4 Redskins drafted same player twice
Washington really wanted California running back Calvin “Cal” Rossi ... they made him their first selection twice in two years.
The Redskins used the ninth overall pick on Rossi in 1946 only to find out he was not eligible as a junior. They selected him in the first round again when he was available the following year.
Here's the best part: After being selected the second time, Rossi told the team he had no plans to play in the NFL. He never played a down for the Redskins.
5 Raiders drafted player who didn't want to play football
Eli Herring was a talented BYU offensive lineman who made it clear he did not want to play professional football due to religious reasons, and he wrote to every NFL team saying so.
The Raiders being the Raiders decided to give it a try anyway and selected Herring in the sixth round of the 1995 draft. Raiders senior assistant Bruce Allen flew to Herring’s home and offered him a three-year, $1.5 million contract, which Herring declined.
"Not that I would not have liked to have been in the NFL, but Sunday is a church day," Herring told the Seattle Times. "One of our guiding principles as Christians is the Ten Commandments and the Lord has told us there and in the scriptures to `keep the Sabbath holy.' The Lord has said that those who do enjoy certain promises, and I just decided that I would be better off in the long run if I obeyed His desires."
He then paused before adding, "Though a couple of hundred thousand dollars sure would have been nice."
6 First No. 1 pick chose rubber over pigskin
Jay Berwanger has a lot of accolades to his name (first Heisman winner, first player taken in first NFL Draft), but playing in the NFL is not one of them.
Drafted by Philadelphia and traded to Chicago, Berwanger was more interested in business than football. He said the league didn’t pay enough.
"I graduated with a degree in business and went to work for a rubber company. I wrote a column for the Daily News that first year too," he said in a Chicago Tribune article. "I didn’t play pro because they weren’t paying any money. I didn’t get hit making speeches at high schools and Kiwanis Clubs, but I got indigestion from corned beef and mashed potato dinners."
According to the Tribune, Berwanger wanted to be paid $1,000 per game despite the fact most players were only making around $50 per game.
"He asked me what I wanted," Berwanger told the New York Times, reaclling a conversation with George Halas. "I said $25,000 for two years and a no-cut contract. We shook hands, said goodbye, and he and I have been good friends ever since. They just couldn't afford to pay that kind of money. But if I was getting out of school today with the publicity I had then, I'd be playing pro."
Only 31 of the 81 players selected in the first draft actually played in the NFL.
7 Falcons drafted John Wayne (yes, that John Wayne)
The 1972 draft featured 17 rounds (seven rounds these days), and after a while, the selections got slim; presented little chance for success in the NFL. So the Falcons decided to have some late-round fun.
"Do we want the roughest, toughest SOB in the draft?!," Falcons coach Norm Van Brocklin reportedly yelled. "Atlanta picks John Wayne of Fort Apache State."
Commissioner Pete Rozelle disallowed the pick.
8 Redskins traded same pick to two different teams … more than once
Redskins coach George Allen was able to pull a fast one in the early 1970s, as explained in a New York Times article.
"Allen, who made 19 deals in his first season in charge of the Redskins, traded the club’s 1973 draft choice twice, first to the Jets and then to the Rams, and a third and fourth selection twice, first to the Buffalo Bills and then to the Chargers.
"The Redskins received in exchange for these choices four players–Verlon Briggs of the Jets, Ron McDole of the Bills, Richie Petitbon of the Rams and Speedy Duncan of the Chargers–who were key performers in the club’s successful season that took Washington into the playoffs for the first time since 1945."
The NFL didn’t find out until a year later, and Allen was fined a sum believed to be $5,000.
9 Eagles, Patriots made bogus draft-day trade
A strange statistic heading into the 2011 draft resulted in a strange trade. The Eagles and Patriots had made a trade in each draft since Bill Belichick arrived in New England in 2000.
In order to keep the streak alive, the Patriots sent the No. 193 pick to the Eagles for the No. 194 pick.
10 Browns called wrong player
The 2011 draft featured two talented players with names similar enough to confuse teams like Cleveland — USC tight end Jordan Cameron and California defensive end Cameron Jordan. The Browns, on the clock with the 102nd pick, dialed the wrong number when trying to call Jordan Cameron.
Jordan told Sports Illustrated about the mix-up.
"Hi," said the voice on the other end. "Jordan? This is the Cleveland Browns." The call was for some biographical information.
"Uh, yeah, this is Cameron Jordan,” he said. "But the Saints already picked me.”
There was an awkward pause before Jordan continued: "I think you mean Jordan Cameron, you're looking for Jordan Cameron. That's not me."
The Browns eventually got in touch with the correct player.
11 NBA’s Jimmy Walker made history
Jimmy Walker, the first overall pick in the 1967 NBA Draft, was also the final pick of the 1967 NFL Draft. The Saints selected him in the 17th round despite no college football experience.
Walker made the right decision and went on to a successful basketball career — two NBA All-Star appearances and 11,655 career points.
No surprise: He’s the only athlete to be the first pick in one pro league and the last pick in another.
12 Trade everything!
This one's well-known but just as strange: Then Saints coach Mike Ditka traded his entire 1999 draft (and his first and third picks in the 2000 draft) for Texas running back Ricky Williams. The Saints gave away eight picks in total, including two first rounders, to move up from the No. 12 spot to No. 5.
Ditka wasn't wrong about the potential in Williams, who ended up rushing for over 10,000 yards in his career. But he accomplished most of that in Miami after lasting just three years in New Orleans.
13 Vikings, Ravens skipped picks
The Vikings botched the seventh overall pick in 2003 when they failed to submit the pick within the 15-minute time limit. They didn't lose the pick, but the mistake allowed others to step in and make their selections.
The Jaguars were next on the clock and selected Byron Leftwich. The Panthers also jumped in and selected Jordan Gross. The Vikings then selected Kevin Williams, which worked out, as he became a six-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman.
The same thing happened in 2011 to the Ravens, who were in trade talks with the Bears as time expired before the 26th overall pick. Kansas City stepped in and selected Jonathan Baldwin before Baltimore took Jimmy Smith.
14 Fullback found out he was drafted by Eagles more than 50 years later
The Eagles selected Syracuse fullback Norm Michael in the 18th round of the 1944 draft ... and he found out about it in 1999.
Michael was reportedly reading a newspaper list of each Syracuse player ever drafted and saw his name.
"My son sent (the Eagles) a letter after we found out," Michael said, according to the book "Weirdest Moments in Sports." "I think he wanted to see if the Eagles owed me a signing bonus. Think of the interest I could have (accumulated on the money). Fifty-seven years worth."
The Eagles at the time were unaware that Michael had joined the Army.
15 Cedric Benson cried after Bears picked him
Many players cry tears of joy after being selected, but not Cedric Benson. The fourth overall pick by Chicago in 2005 cried on draft night for the opposite reason.
"Benson was bugged that Jerry Angelo decided to draft him despite Benson's representatives making clear in a last-minute phone call that they and the Bears weren't on the same page regarding fundamental contract demands," wrote David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.
The relationship was never repaired. Benson didn’t play well for three years in Chicago (never rushed for more than 700 yards in a season), but he enjoyed three 1,000-yard seasons in Cincinnati.
16 Bo knew how to decline football
The Buccaneers selected Auburn running back Bo Jackson with the first overall pick in 1986 and offered him a five-year, $7.6 million contract ... which he declined, just as he told Tampa he would do. Jackson instead accepted a three-year, $1.067 million deal with MLB's Kansas City Royals.
Jackson had grown upset with Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse, who invited the running back to take a trip to Tampa on the owner's plane. When Jackson returned to Auburn, he found out the visit cost him NCAA eligibility for baseball season.
"I was (already) thinking about not going to Tampa Bay,” Jackson said in the ESPN film "You Don't Know Bo." "This — because the officials at Tampa Bay told me personally, ‘yes, we checked it, (the NCAA) said that it was OK,’ — I think it was all a plot to get me ineligible from baseball because they saw the season that I was having, and they thought that they were going lose me to baseball. (They thought) ‘If we get him declared ineligible, then we got him.’
"I told Hugh Culverhouse, ‘You draft me if you want, you’re going to waste a draft pick.’ I said, ‘I promise you that.'"
Jackson, while playing for the Royals, re-entered the draft the following year and was selected by the Raiders in the seventh round.
17 Raiders selected committed CFL player
Notre Dame’s Raghib "Rocket" Ismail was expected to be the top pick in the 1991 draft. But he had other intentions and instead signed a deal with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL, where he could make more money.
With Ismail in Canada, there was no reason for an NFL team to take him. But the Raiders selected him in the fourth round, anyway.
Oddly enough, he did end up playing for the Raiders a few years later — Argonauts owner Bruce McNall ran into some financial trouble, and Ismail left the CFL to sign with Oakland.
The man they called Rocket would also play for the Panthers and Cowboys throughout his 10-year NFL career.
Scroll to continue with content