Speaking on a conference call with national football writers on Wednesday, NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi answered a number of questions on the different draft scenarios for NFL teams. Lombardi was a great source of information as he has spent over 22 years in the league working in various personnel departments. Of the five clubs he’s worked for, Lombardi spent time with the 49ers in the 80s working under legendary Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh.
Twenty minutes into the call, Lombardi shared this fascinating story in how Jerry Rice became the No. 16 overall selection in the 1985 NFL Draft:
“I was fortunate enough to be in the draft room when we selected (Jerry). Coach Walsh called me in his office about three months before the draft. Actually, back in November, we were playing the Houston Oilers in Houston and he called me to his hotel suite on the Saturday night before the game and I thought I was in trouble which wouldn’t be out of the norm. He called me in his room and said, ‘Who is this kid on the TV-set I’m watching? He’s incredible! Can you get me every tape on this guy? And I said, ‘Sure coach, that’s Jerry Rice. I’ll see what I can do.’
“And at this time, we were on 16-milimeter tape which was expensive and hard to find, especially for the smaller schools, they held on to those tapes like gold. So I went back to San Francisco, got three tapes and gave them to Coach Walsh. He watched them and I had to send them back out. It took a lot of nerve for me to ask him questions, my hands still sweat when I think of him. I said, ‘Coach, I have to send those tapes back out, would you mind if I get them off your desk? And he said, ‘Sure, go up and get them, you can send them out.’ So I went up there and he had a little note attached to them, and in his left-handed handwriting he had, ‘John Jefferson… with speed.’ That’s how he described Jerry Rice.
“When we got into the draft, we had plans to possibly select Eddie Brown. We thought he’d be the guy who would come to us. With Jerry, we moved up from 28 to 16. We traded our first, second and third-round picks to the New England Patriots and we ended up getting their first and third-round picks for that trade. When we got to 16 we thought we’d get at least one of the receivers and maybe we’d get Brown. Then, we were on the phone with the Cincinnati Bengals trying to work out a trade with them, and they decided to take Brown. Coach handed me the phone and said, ‘Don’t worry about it; we’ll just pick Jerry Rice.’
“What we had to do was sweat out the Kansas City Chiefs who were picking at 15, and they ended up picking Ethan Horton, the running back from North Carolina. Then we picked Jerry. We went out to practice that following week for our first minicamp and Dwight Clark came off the field and said, ‘Smooth and rich.’ Those were his comments and I think he’s been proven correct.”
Tags: Bill Walsh, Dwight Clark, Jerry Rice
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