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Draft stories: 1967

Posted by Doug on January 9, 2011

I've really been enjoying perusing old newspaper articles in the google news archives lately, so I figured I may as well put that time to good use by blogging some interesting tidbits. This post contains a random assortment of details and stories from the 1967 draft, along with some offshoots.

The 1967 draft was the first to include teams from both the AFL and the NFL. In this article, my guy George Webster reminds us that everything old is new again, by putting words into the mouths of all the top 2011 draftees:

"I would have liked to have been around last year when the money was being passed out," said Webster, making an obvious reference to the pre-merger [AFL-NFL bidding] wars.

This draft got interesting about a week before the actual event, when the Vikings traded Fran Tarkenton to the Giants for a slew of picks. Tarkenton, at the time, was not yet the all-time great he would eventually become, but he was certainly a guy worth giving up some picks for: a 6-year starter who had been to two pro bowls before his 27th birthday. A very rough comp might be Jay Cutler, and like Cutler, Tarkenton had some baggage. Though he wouldn't publicly say why, he had already announced that he absolutely would not play for the Vikings in 1967 . His price turned out to be the Giants' first picks in 1967 and 1968, and their second round pick in 1967.

Now it gets a little confusing.

The Giants had the worst record in the NFL in 1966, so under normal circumstances they'd be picking first overall. But don't forget that this is the first common draft, so AFL teams have to become involved somehow, and the expansion Saints need a high pick too. So there were some things to be negotiated. This article gives us some rather bizarre details:

The Giants disclosed that the NFL had given them, as part of the agreement between the National and American Football Leagues, two options in the 1967 draft: 1. the first selection in either the 1967 or 1968 draft for the purpose of selecting a quarterback: 2. the right to trade that selection for a veteran quarterback.

So the Giants exercised the second option. Under it, the Vikings now get the first pick in 1967 or 1968 if they want a quarterback, the Giants normal pick if they go for any other player.

Why the NFL cared what position the Giants took I don't know. But here's how it played out. The Vikings picked Michigan State running back Clint Jones in the Giants' #2 slot in 1967 (the expansion Saints owned the #1; more on that later) and then took eventual Hall of Fame tackle Ron Yary first overall in 1968. This means, I guess, that the QB-only provision applied only to 1967. Minnesota played it well, but this was a real sweetheart deal that the NFL gave to the Giants. Essentially, they were given a skip-to-the-beginning-of-the-line pass that could be used either this year or next. You don't gain much by skipping from second to first, so why not save it for next season, which is what the Vikings did. Their total haul ended up being Clint Jones, Ron Yary, and (with New York's 1967 second round pick) wide receiver Bob Grim from Oregon State (recent comparables: Willie Jackson, Michael Jenkins). It's tough to be disappointed with a Hall of Famer, but given the unbelievable defense Minnesota would soon develop and the all-too-believable play they got from quarterbacks Joe Kapp and Gary Cuozzo, it reasonable to wonder whether this trade might have cost the Vikings a championship or two.

Speaking of the Vikings' unbelievable defense, a different draft day trade in 1967 played a large role in that. Minnesota sent running back Tommy Mason, tight end Hal Bedsole, and their second round pick (#33 overall) to Los Angeles for tight end Marlin McKeever and the Rams' first rounder (#15), which the Vikings used to select Alan Page, who was best known for wearing purple, devouring people, and eventually becoming a state supreme court justice.

Speaking of Gary Cuozzo, he was traded by the Colts to the the Saints for the first overall selection. Five years earlier, Cuozzo was an undrafted rookie from Virginia who had turned down a scholarship to Yale Med School to pursue his NFL dreams. By March 1967, he was a dental student and Johnny Unitas's backup. He was, in fact, "considered the best backup quarterback in the NFL." Fear not, Saints' fans, this article will assure you that Cuozzo will be able to focus on football.

Cuozzo said his semester ends in mid-June and football camp in New Orleans begins in early July.

Cuozzo, perhaps comparable to a pre-Jacksonville Mark Brunell, turned out to be more of an A.J. Feeley. To make matters worse, the Saints had to throw in Bill Curry (obtained from the Packers in the expansion draft) and another undisclosed draft choice to make the deal happen. Curry would make two pro bowls for the Colts and Cuozzo would be beaten out by Billy Kilmer in his only season as a Saint. Despite the uninspiring effort, there was still enough bloom on the Cuozzo rose to command a first round pick. A few days prior to the 1968 draft, Minnesota would send pick #7 to New Orleans for Cuozzo.

The Colts, meanwhile, took defensive lineman Bubba Smith from Michigan State. Smith's career was short but very productive. At the least, he was probably the MVP of the Colts' Super Bowl Championship team of 1970.

According to this article (which has a great picture of Pete Rozelle literally writing draftees' names on a chalkboard), Baltimore's selection of Smith fouled up the Falcons' draft plans. Atlanta, owner of the third pick, was expecting to be able to take Bubba and apparently didn't like what was available at #3. The consensus pick at that point would have been Heisman winning quarterback Steve Spurrier from Florida, but despite a very poor rookie season from incumbent starter Randy Johnson in 1966, the Falcons had no interest in the local boy. The 49ers ended up being Atlanta's trade partner, giving up receiver Bernie Casey, offensive lineman Jim Wilson, and defensive lineman Jim Norton for the right to select Spurrier at #3.

Wilson and Norton were young, but not particularly well-regarded as far as I can tell. They played a combined 28 games for the Falcons during their careers. Casey was a 28-year-old former first round pick who was a solid wide receiver. He was 15th in the AFL/NFL in receiving yards over the previous three years, so would have been perceived maybe as somewhere between Anquan Boldin and Braylon Edwards of today. A few months later, the Falcons traded to Casey to the Rams for running back Tom Moore (not the Colts' current offensive coordinator), who ended up playing only 10 games for the Falcons before retiring after the 1967 season. Here is a quaint article describing the Moore/Casey deal:

Outside business interests figured into the trade.

Coach George Allen of the Rams said, "Moore indicated to me some time ago that his mortgage business made it impossible for him to return to Los Angeles this year. He indicated that he would play in Atlanta, near his Nashville home, and that his company had a branch office in Atlanta."

Casey, an artist, is associated with a gallery in Los Angeles. "I feel like a rookie again. I'm most enthusiastic about this trade," said Casey.

The enthusiastic Casey would have his best season in 1967. He retired after the following year and became an actor, with appearances in Never say never again, Bill and Ted's excellent adventure, and a whole lot of other stuff. Moore's mortgage business was equally successful, in a mortgage business kind of way.

Let's return now to the Falcons and their decision to trade the #3 overall selection for three players. This is what coach Norb Hecker had to say about it:

There is no way you can build a team now by drafting. Figure it out. We had the third choice, then the 31st, then the 57th. You might get one outstanding player a year, and that would give you five players in five years. It would take quite awhile to build a winning team at that pace.

The third, the 31st, and the 57th, you say?

In the 1967 draft, the 4th, 5th and 6th picks combined for 16 pro bowls. The 32nd, 33rd, and 34th combined for 8. And the 58th, 59th, and 60th combined for three. Of the nine players picked immediately after the picks Hecker was lamenting, we find eight pro bowlers and three Hall of Famers. Maybe the fourteen-year-old Bill Belichick spotted the market inefficiency.

Seventeen games and one win later, Hecker was fired.