Defensive end Chandler Jones became the first Syracuse first-round NFL draft pick in a decade Thursday night.
The fact that no former Orange player has been taken that early since future Hall of Famer Dwight Freeney went to the Indianapolis Colts in 2002 as the 11th overall pick tells you all you need to know where the talent level has come and gone in that ten year, three head coach span.
Since the end of Paul Pasqualoni’s tenure in 2004, through the Greg Robinson debacle, and now into year four of the Doug Marrone regime, up until Thursday night when Jones was selected, only 12 Syracuse players had been drafted overall. The highest draft choice in that period was the third round.
The previous seven drafts (1998-2004) there were 20 players selected, but six of those were first-round picks.
The good news is that the talent level seems to be going in the right direction under Marrone in getting exactly the type of player he thinks will fit into the Cuse program (smaller, private school without state resources). Hopefully that will yield more number one picks the rest of this decade.
The NFL Draft has supplied us some fond, wildly different memories of SU-related coverage, and the following two occasions, 20 years apart, come to mind:
1979-Kicker Dave Jacobs (12th round Denver Broncos)
The draft was 12 rounds back then and not on TV (ESPN wasn’t even on the air). It figured coming off a disappointing 3-8 season in 1978, the last year of games played at Archbold Stadium, that the senior class would produce few NFL prospects.
Indeed Jacobs, a four year starter who still holds the school record with a 58 yard FG in 1975, was the only Orangemen drafted. It was late on the third and final night of the business-like proceeding. The Broncos wanted to see if he could unseat 15-year veteran Jim Turner, a former two-time all-pro headed toward retirement.
A day later, as a student reporter, we’ll always remember Jacobs prancing through the middle of the Quad prominently sporting his AJD (an original team hat maker circa mid 70s-early 80s) Broncos hat excited about his shot for an NFL job. We took advantage of the opportunity to conduct an interview.
Heck, we were just as excited that we were so close to someone we knew well for four years as a classmate and dorm neighbor that was drafted by an NFL team.
Well, as it turns out, Jacobs couldn’t out kick the veteran Turner who retired after the ’79 season instead. But, two years later in 1981 Jacobs did beat out, and send into retirement, the last straight-on kicker in the NFL, Cleveland’s 13-year incumbent Don Cockroft, only to be cut after five games for missing 8 of 12 FG attempts.
Today, Jacobs and family members run the Shirt World clothing store on Marshall Street.
1999-Quarterback Donovan McNabb (1st round Philadelphia Eagles)
By now the draft was on TV, of course, ESPN able to draw huge numbers as they cultivated hyping an event to pro football fans that fell perfectly during a down time in the off season.
We were there on the floor of the Theatre at Madison Square Garden as a flurry of activity signaled the start of the draft on that Saturday afternoon. It started as Commissioner Paul Tagliabue set to announce the known top pick, Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch, to the revived Cleveland Browns.
Once Couch finished posing for photos and left the stage, the murmur of noise started to get louder from a group of some 50 Philadelphia Eagles fans in the balcony, many of whom had bussed up from Philly that morning as part of a promotion with sports radio station WIP and its up-to-no-good morning drive personality Angelo Cataldi.
For weeks leading up to the draft, Cataldi and one of his regular call-in listeners, then Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell, pleaded on air with the hometown Eagles to draft Heisman Trophy winning running back Ricky Williams out of Texas, instead of McNabb. He simultaneously brainwashed many of the gullible Eagle fans into believing the same thing.
That wasn’t going to happen. New Eagles coach Andy Reid wanted to build his organization with the quarterback of his choice. After personally coming to Syracuse to watch McNabb work out, Reid’s mind was made up, he was going to be the number two pick.
And sure enough when Tagliabue strode to the microphone to announce that with the second pick the Eagles had selected Syracuse’s McNabb, the highest-ever drafted player from the school, the moment was drowned in boos from those Eagles fans up above.
Staying classy as he donned an Eagles cap, shook hands with the commissioner then walked over to hugs, kisses and photos with family members who were stage left, McNabb moved to the media area. He did a few minutes of Q & A with New York sports radio personalities Mike and the Mad Dog then moved on in the media area coming face-to-face where Cataldi was stationed microphone in hand.
He didn’t stop, walking right by the speechless (and that’s a feat) Cataldi to a small pool of media including us. McNabb had the last laugh with Cataldi that day.
Today, McNabb is hoping his NFL career isn’t over, but if it is after 13 seasons, it will be interesting to see where he ends up behind the microphone.