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Tuesday, May 02, 2006 | Remember when the NFL first started televising its draft on ESPN more than 20 years ago?
Pete Rozelle, the late, great commissioner who lived out his final years of retirement in Rancho Santa Fe, gave the new venture legitimacy when he would step to the podium and read the name of a team’s draft pick from an index card. Most times the pick made sense.
But when the pick was a head-shaker, the sight of Rozelle announcing a draft pick on TV was so new back then, I half-expected him to stop the show. I’d envision him looking behind him for a chance to whisper to the misguided general manager, but he’d be forced to speak into the camera and tell them they really didn’t want to make this pick.
But Rozelle always calmly stepped from the podium, allowing the next general manager to make a fool of himself in front of a national audience.
It was ludicrous in 1999 when Mike Ditka traded the New Orleans Saints’ entire draft for running back Ricky Williams, the Heisman Trophy winner from Patrick Henry High and the University of Texas. Now Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly has topped Ditka with a draft-day decision involving another San Diego Heisman Trophy winner, USC running back Reggie Bush from Helix High.
Casserly’s telling us they made a “football decision” to build their defense around a defensive end, Mario Williams. Maybe Williams will get a couple of hits on the quarterback, but Bush is a rare four-way threat who can score any time he touches the ball as a running back, receiver and punt or kickoff return man.
Who makes a bigger impact in building a team into a Super Bowl contender? Let’s look at the Chargers.
Shawne Merriman made the Chargers a better defense in 2005 with 10 sacks as the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, but the Chargers were able to draft him with the 12th pick overall. Four years earlier they didn’t pass up a chance to take a future Hall of Famer when LaDainian Tomlinson was still available with the fifth pick in 2001.
Williams had some big numbers at North Carolina State with 24 tackles for a loss and 14.5 sacks. But the numbers are less impressive when you consider he was playing next to two other first-round draft picks: Outside linebacker Manny Lawson, drafted 22nd overall by San Francisco, and defensive tackle John McCargo, drafted 26th by Buffalo.
Williams had two first-rounders drawing away double teams, while Bush’s numbers would have been bigger if he wasn’t sharing the ball with running back LenDale White.
Gil Brandt and Bobby Beathard, meet Charley Casserly.
Brandt, with the Dallas Cowboys, and Beathard with the Washington Redskins and Chargers, are two former NFL general managers who made brilliant decisions before they began to take themselves too seriously later in their careers with dubious draft picks.
Reggie Bush will be the Michael Jordan of the NFL, and Casserly’s boondoggle will some day be on par with the Portland Trail Blazers passing on Michael Jordan to take Sam Bowie. The Trail Blazers no doubt explained it as “basketball decision” because they needed a center.
Gary Kubiak, the Texans’ new head coach and former offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos, must have forgotten what John Elway and another San Diego-bred running back, Lincoln High alumnus Terrell Davis, meant to the Broncos when they won back-to-back Super Bowls.
I thought the good people of Houston had already done their part in the Katrina Hurricane relief efforts when the city opened its arms to adopt so many refugees from New Orleans. I didn’t know the Texans thought it would be a nice finishing touch to lift the spirits of New Orleans football fans with the gift of Reggie Bush.
Look, this draft stuff isn’t that hard, but some general managers think they’re General Eisenhower planning D-Day.
Let’s examine the Chargers’ draft. For the third straight year under general manager A.J. Smith, the pieces fell into place for the draft.
The Chargers needed to improve their secondary and they took cornerback Antonio Cromartie, a talent talked about as the best athlete from Florida State since Deion Sanders. Makes sense.
The Chargers needed a left tackle and they took Marcus McNeill, a big body projected as a first-round pick that fell to the Chargers in the second round. Makes sense.
The Chargers needed a third quarterback for depth and in the third round they took Clemson’s Charlie Whitehurst, a strong-armed 6-5 body and son of former NFL quarterback David Whitehurst. Makes sense.
The Chargers need a road-grader blocking tight end to complement Antonio Gates’ receiving skills so they traded their fourth-round pick to the St. Louis Rams for starting tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, who is regarded as a sixth offensive lineman with soft hands. Makes sense.
The Chargers need an inside linebacker to go with veterans Donnie Edwards and Randall Godfrey and they took Iowa State’s Tim Dobbins with their fifth-round pick. With four picks in the sixth and seventh rounds, the Chargers drafted linemen for depth and a strong-legged kickoff specialist for field position. Makes sense.
Rozelle, watching from above with the football gods who blessed Bush with his unique combination of speed, instincts and balance, probably nodded his head in agreement with the Chargers’ picks.
But he should have reached down with the voice of god – the late John Facenda, who narrated those dramatic NFL films about Vince Lombardi – and stopped Charley Casserly and the Texans, telling them, “This doesn’t make sense.”
Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at