Happy anniversary, Bill Tobin and Mel Kiper

2007 NFL Draft
Getty Images

Multiple Twitter accounts have noted this morning the 27th anniversary of the time when the coverage of the NFL draft sounded a lot like a pro wrestling pre-match interview.

Adam Schefter of ESPN supplied the short version. The excellent @BackAftaThis account dusted off a longer cut.

It was 1994. The Colts moved up to No. 4 from No. 7. Many believed they made the jump to get quarterback Trent Dilfer. They instead selected linebacker Trev Alberts.

Long-time NFL draft expert Mel Kiper didn’t like the move. And (contrary to the modern draft-coverage etiquette that is far more grounded in selling oft-implausible hope to all fans of all teams) he said so.

“I think it’s a typical Colt move,” Kiper explained. “I mean, here’s a team that needed a franchise quarterback. To pass up a Trent Dilfer when all you have is Jim Harbaugh. Give me a break. That’s why the Colts are picking second every year in the draft, not battling for the Super Bowl like other clubs in the National Football League.”

Cut to Indianapolis. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen welcomed Colts G.M. Bill Tobin to the spot where Tobin will be interviewed with a huge smile and this line: “I knew you’d have one surprise for us today.”

Tobin, foreshadowing his on-air rant, didn’t reciprocate the joviality. “Not a surprise to us,” Tobin said, triggering an immediate and dramatic change to Mort’s demeanor and words.

“No, that’s great,” Mort said. “I mean, no that’s what I mean. I’m not . . . I’m not . . . Hey.”

Then came the on-the-record question and answer. Mort asked for Tobin’s response to the criticism about not taking a quarterback.

“Well, you know, we got a guy up there — who in the hell is Mel Kiper anyway?” Tobin said. “I mean, here’s a guy that criticizes everybody, whoever they take. He’s got the answers to who you should take and who you shouldn’t take. In my knowledge of him, he’s never, ever put on a jock strap. He’s never been a coach. He’s never been a scout. He’s never been an administrator. And all of a sudden he’s an expert. He’s in our papers two days ago telling us who we have to take. We don’t have to take anybody that Mel Kiper says we have to take. Mel Kiper has no more credentials to do what he’s doing than my neighbor, and my neighbor’s a postman and he doesn’t even have season tickets to the NFL.”

It’s unknown whether Tobin’s postman ever became a draft expert, or purchased season tickets.

In the short term, Tobin got the last laugh. Sort of. Dilfer, despite winning a right-place, right-time Super Bowl with the Ravens six years later, never became a great quarterback. (Then again, the 1994 draft had no great quarterbacks. Gus Frerotte was the best of the bunch; even better were Kurt Warner and Jeff Garcia, both of whom went undrafted.)

Meanwhile, Harbaugh nearly led Tobin’s Colts to the Super Bowl a year later. They had the Steelers on the ropes at Three Rivers Stadium before Pittsburgh took a late lead. Harbaugh then nearly connected on what would have been a game-winning Hail Mary.

In the long haul, Kiper won. The Colts fired Tobin after the 1996 season, and he’d never serve as a G.M. again. Kiper continues to persevere through highs and lows and ups and down and swings and misses.

Indeed, my one enduring memory of Kiper has nothing to do with the draft. In May 2001, when Kiper was hosting a weekend show on ESPN Radio, he made the case for one of the NFL’s teams becoming the first franchise to lose every contest in a 16-game season.

That team was the New England Patriots. They’d go on to win their first of six Super Bowls that same year.

At times like this, I still wonder what Tobin’s postman thought the 2001 Patriots would do.

24 responses to “Happy anniversary, Bill Tobin and Mel Kiper

  1. In Kiper’s defense, if Bledsoe hadn’t gotten hurt, the Patriots probably would have had a horrible year. They started 0-2 after going 5-11 with him the year before. No doubt Belichick would have been fired within a year or two if Bledsoe hadn’t got hurt.

  2. Another example of how overhyped the draft is. I remember that exchange and feeling like it was the biggest deal. In the end, Dilfer was terrible, and Alberts wasn’t that good either. So they were arguing over two mediocre players, but it felt like it was the most important decision ever at that moment, and everyone does that with the draft every year.

  3. Just goes to show that the only thing really interesting about the draft isn’t the draft itself, and the highlight is cranky old dudes throwing shade about… HR decisions?

    I’m in this game for the big men running around the field trying to score points. Wake me up when it’s training camp.

  4. When it came to the draft I always preferred Mike Mayock anyway.


    Weird how Mayock was so good at that job yet so awful at actually drafting

  5. The Colts didn’t move up to number 4. They moved up to number 5. The Patriots took Willie McGinest at number 4.

  6. Both guys are great at what they do/did. Tobin’s job was to build a super bowl winner, and he built the great ’85 Bears super bowl winning team. Kiper’s job is entertainment, and he’s the absolute best at what he does.

  7. I liked this article Florio, I was a year away from being born when this happened and this is great background on the clip & Kiper Jr. Loved the quip about the Patriots at the end, too. I’m sure you’ve got plenty of nuggets like that

  8. “Who the hell is Mel Kiper anyway?” Classic. Tobin called him out. The comment got a lot of run for a couple-three years.

  9. I watched that Draft. I followed the draft via the Sporting News and when ESPN broadcasted it, it was a dream come true. All we had was the Wide World of Sports and MNF halftime before ESPN. How the mighty have fallen…but I digress.

    Alberts was a horrific pick. I knew it at the time and didn’t need Kiper to explain. Touchdown Tommy Vardell for the Browns was another memorable WTH pick. As was Ron Dayne (with Alexander the obvious pick). The the Falcons jumping the jets for Brett Fah-Vrey. Those were the days. When football pulled side by side with baseball.

    Love or hate Kiper, he is who he is and isn’t apologetic. WYSIWYG. I’ll take that, every time.

  10. “If Jimmy Clausen is not a successful quarterback in the NFL, I’m done. That’s it. I’m out.”
    — Mel Kiper, 2010

  11. Dilfer would go on to play 7 more seasons than Harbaugh, post a 58-55 QBRec vs Harbaughs 31-44, complete almost 500 more passes and nearly 6,000 more yards, and 130 games vs 88. Of course Washington (and Charley Casserly) was also wrong in selecting Heath Shuler 3 picks before Dilfer.

    Trev Alberts started 7 games in 3 short years in the league (suited up for 29 games just like Shuler).

    Yeah, Kiper was right and Tobin wrong. Mel won that one. Not close

  12. Apologies for the double post, but it should be noted Bill Tobin was hired by Bengals in 2003 and is still in their employ to date.

  13. I remember watching the draft when Luck, RG3, Tannehill and Wilson were taken and while Jon Gruden said he was jealous of Seattle for picking Wilson, Mel Kiper’s Hair said Wilson would have a Seneca Wallace-type career, and I’ve been saying “who in the hell is Mel Kiper anyway?” ever since.

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