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.