|Kansas City DT Buck Buchanan grabs Green Bay FB Jim Taylor after a play in Super Bowl I, won by the Packers, 35-10. |
Vince Lombardi was dead wrong in his initial assessment of the Green Bay Packers’ 1962 draft, but he was spot on about the most talented of the 24 players chosen and should have stuck to his guns when it became a point of controversy five years later in the days leading up to Super Bowl I.
The late Larry Felser, who covered the Buffalo Bills for more than 40 years and one of the most respected pro football writers of his time, lambasted Lombardi in his 2008 book, “The Birth of the New NFL,” over a spat at a press conference prior to what was officially called the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game.
Controversies didn’t have the life back then that they do today. This was nothing like what the pro football universe has labeled “Deflategate,” but 48 years later it might still rank as one of the testier pre-Super Bowl exchanges ever between a head coach and member of the media.
Here was Felser’s account of what happened:
A reporter asked Lombardi whether he considered Kansas City defensive tackle Buck Buchanan a premier player. “Of course, I do,” Lombardi snapped. “I drafted him, didn’t I?”
Tom Marshall, a reporter for the Kansas City Star, then challenged Lombardi. “You didn’t draft Buchanan in the NFL,” said Marshall. “The New York Giants did.”
Lombardi exploded and loudly demanded, “Are you trying to tell me who I drafted and who I didn’t?”
Marshall stood his ground before Lombardi erupted again and angrily stalked off the stage.
The next day, Lombardi pulled Marshall aside and apologized to him.
Felser concluded that Lombardi revealed his innermost self during the confrontation. He said it showed that he was “an insecure martinet on edge about a game in which his team was heavily favored.”
In truth, it was Lombardi, not Marshall or later Felser, who had his facts right. The record shows that Lombardi drafted Junious “Buck” Buchanan in the 17th round of the 1962 draft.
It is duly recorded in the Packers Media Guide on page 582.
Buchanan’s name also appears on the complete list of 1962 NFL draft choices (See 17th Round, 238th pick).
Prior to the AFL-NFL merger, teams were allowed to draft what were called “futures,” players who had redshirted and had eligibility remaining, although their class had graduated. At a time when pro teams had one-man scouting departments and the draft was held in the midst of the regular season, mistakes were sometimes made over eligibility issues and that was the case with Buchanan.
The NFL voided the choice.
Joel Bussert, the NFL’s longtime senior vice president of player personnel and football operations, said the league has no record of when and why the Buchanan choice was voided, but that it was up to the clubs to prove that a player was eligible.
As it turned out, Buchanan was selected again in the 1963 NFL draft and Marshall was half-right. The Giants took him in the 19th round. But the Dallas Texans – soon to become the Kansas City Chiefs -- selected him No. 1 overall in the AFL draft and signed him to a contract at a time when the two leagues were engaging in high-stakes bidding wars over players.
Buchanan played 13 years for the Chiefs and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.
The Packers whipped the Chiefs in Super Bowl I, but with no help from their 1962 draft.
The draft was actually held Dec. 4, 1961, and lasted 15 hours or until 1:15 the following morning. When it was over Lombardi boasted, “This is the best draft we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
The next best player taken by the Packers was halfback Ernie Green, who was chosen in the 14th round and traded to the Cleveland Browns prior to his rookie season. Green played seven years for the Browns and rushed for more than 3,000 yards.
The Packers’ first pick was fullback Earl Gros. He lasted two years and was traded to Philadelphia. Picks 2, 3 and 4 – guard Ed Blaine, offensive end Gary Barnes and defensive lineman Ron Gassert – each lasted one season with the Packers.
Five years later, Lombardi clearly had reason to be testy about his 1962 draft. But he also had good reason to be annoyed by an uninformed sportswriter and had no reason to apologize to him.
In fact, if Buchanan had been eligible for the 1962 draft and had signed with the Packers, one could argue that it might have turned out to be the greatest pick in franchise history.