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The NFL draft is here.
After all the pro workouts days, after all the studying and after all the analysts (myself included) have weighed in, it is not until a player pulls on his new uniform and actually takes the field in the NFL that we find out who is the real deal. Fame is found only through performance.
In my days, things were very different. The draft was not even a live prime time TV event.
Still, I remember it well. I was in my dormitory at Youngstown State in 1973 Scouts had told me that I might well be drafted by the NFL.
On the day of the draft, I was laying around my room in sweats and sneakers when the only phone in our hallway rang. A fellow student - from Lebanon as I recall - answered it and called out "Jaworski! Phone call!" I walked down the hall and took the phone, and a voice told me I had been selected by the LA Rams in the second round, the 37th player picked.
Three months later I was in Los Angeles, in uniform, in a line of quarterbacks that included the great Roman Gabriel. And two years later, I was a starter in the NFL.
The draft is key to success in the NFL. I believe great teams are home grown - that is, they are mostly built through the draft. Trades are difficult because of the rules and restrictions of the world's leading pro football league. Even with the advent of free agency, history shows us that it rarely serves as the cornerstone in building a championship team.
The current champions are the Baltimore Ravens. Of their recent Super Bowl winning roster, almost all of were selected in the draft by current general manager Ozzie Newsome. Newsome is in the NFL Hall of Fame. As a player, he was a ground breaking tight end for the Cleveland Browns, where he started an eye-popping 185 straight games.
Upon hanging up his helmet, Newsome took on a job in the Browns' front office. By the time the franchise moved to Baltimore (where they became the Ravens) Newsome had shown an aptitude for finding talent through the draft, as director of player personnel. Newsome's selections included Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, and Jermaine Lewis.
It was a historic day in 2002 when Newsome became the Ravens' general manager, the first African-American to hold that post. To this day, he bucks trends in another way.
His approach to the draft, and scouting, discounts the techno-centric ideals of most NFL teams. Newsome rejects the super-computer systems used by the majority of teams, relying on old-fashioned instinct. "My eyes can spot a football player better than any computer or stopwatch," Newsome said at the recent Maxwell Football Club Awards, where he was honored as the NFL Executive of the Year.
When many passed on quarterback Joe Flacco, Newsome saw a gem. Same for Lewis, Ed Reed, Ray Rice and most every starter on the field in New Orleans this past February. In 17 years running the Ravens' draft, his 18 first round picks have been selected for 53 Pro Bowls. Seven of his top-ten draft slot picks developed into All-Pros.
Newsome didn't have much time to relish the win. Within days, he lost six starters on defense, and nine overall due to retirement, free agency, and cuts he made himself.
He will start building again, this week, mostly through the draft.
It's a tricky business.
I was one of the lucky ones. My idol as a quarterback was the legendary Johnny Unitas. One of my most cherished photos, which hangs on a wall in my den, is of me with Johnny, arms linked on the field before one of his final games. He was never drafted, and barely got a tryout.
Analyst Ron Jaworski, who played 17 years in the NFL and earned All-Pro honors and a Super Bowl berth with the Philadelphia Eagles, is a regular guest columnist for China Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(China Daily 04/26/2013 page23)