With the first pick in the first NFL draft held 79 years ago Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles took the first-ever Heisman Trophy winner.
Sounds like a good idea, right?
Well, it didn’t quite work out for the Eagles.
The first selection, University of Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger, never played a down for Philadelphia. In fact, by draft’s end, the Bears had acquired Berwanger’s negotiating rights, according to the Associated Press, which reported the Eagles were worried they couldn’t meet Berwanger’s asking price of $1,000 per game. (Berwanger, for his part, would tell the AP he never asked Philadelphia for $1,000 per contest.)
In the end, the Bears would have no luck getting Berwanger signed, either. The 1935 Heisman Trophy winner purportedly asked Bears owner George Halas for $25,000 over two years, though there’s some question as to whether that ever happened, per ESPNChicago.com.
Ultimately, Berwanger would never play a NFL down, instead making his biggest mark in business, founding a Chicago-area company that made plastic and rubber products.
Though the Bears struck out with Berwanger, they selected two Hall of Famers in the first draft: offensive tackle Joe Stydahar (Round One) and offensive guard Dan Fortmann (Round Nine). Other Hall of Famers picked in this inaugural draft, held in Philadelphia, were tailback Tuffy Leemans (Giants, Round Two) and end Wayne Millner (Redskins, Round Eight).
Finally, here’s a fun college football footnote: in Round Four, the Brooklyn Dodgers selected Alabama end Paul “Bear” Bryant, who instead went into coaching, a decision that worked out quite well.