By most accounts, the Miami Dolphins did well on the first day of the National Football League draft.
How could they miss with three first round choices?
They got what many consider the best quarterback in the draft, Tua Tagovailoa, and added key elements towards building a Super Bowl winner with additions to their offensive line and defensive backfield. Austin Jackson was their second first round choice, and he will be expected to provide cover for their prize new quarterback. Cornerback Noah Igbrnoghene was Miami’s third first round choice, 30th overall, and the prospect out of Auburn brings real promise.
Before the careers of Tagovailoa, Jackson and Igbrnoghene are established with real time performances, and the fate of eight other 2020 Miami draft picks are realized, it can be shown that the only way these athletes truly reach their highest aspirations is if their team wins a Super Bowl or more.
If any of the 11 draft selections the Dolphins collected in this year’s annual allocation of college talent goes on to Hall of Fame consideration, their prospects for induction would be greatly enhanced if they were part of a championship team.
In 1974, I was a quiet observer in the Oakland Raiders draft room of what was then a two-day event that began on Tuesday morning and finished 17 rounds of selections by Wednesday night. In the Raiders Oakport Street offices, located across from the Oakland Coliseum and in a room halfway down the upstairs hallway, was a rectangular shaped black slate table that ran the length of an 11 by 24 foot room. This is where the Raiders coaches and player personnel scouts had met to conduct the Raiders draft.
The day before, I witnessed an incredible negotiation between three of the brightest minds in professional football; Al Davis, John Madden and Ron Wolf. Davis had surrendered the head of the table to John Madden, and was sitting to his right closer to the speaker on the phone that sat in the middle of that black slate table.
Madden wanted to take a player that in the coming years would be selected for entrance into the National Football League Hall of Fame. Wolf was encouraging the Raiders use their first pick for an offensive tackle out of Florida A&M, Henry Lawrence. Davis was going to decide the issue by agreeing with one of them and seemed to turn even harder towards his player personnel director when Wolf said, “If we take Lawrence now we might get them both, but if we don’t take Lawrence here, he won’t be on the board when we next pick.”
I could see Davis light up on that thought, getting both of them, and he approved of making Henry Lawrence the Raiders top draft choice in 1974. Wolf was also right, the guy Madden wanted in the first round was available when the Raiders second round choice came up, pick number 45.
Ron celebrated when the Saints took Paul Seal with the 36th pick, a tight end out of Michigan, knowing only one team in need of a tightend now stood between Oakland and the kid they wanted out of Notre Dame. Wolf knew that team, the Dolphins, were favoring Andre Tillman with knowledge gained from one of his best friends in the league, Miami’s personnel guy, Bobby Bethard.
As Wolf expected, the eight players taken after the Saints took Seal, and before the Raiders next draft choice, were positions other than tightend. When the Dolphins selected Tillman with the 38th pick, the chances for the Raiders getting the guy Madden wanted in the first round were highly enhanced.
Over the squat-box that sat close to Davis and on that black slate table, we could hear Don Weiss, who had taken over for Pete Rozelle after the Commissioner announced early picks, be heard saying the Raiders were on the clock.
Madden slapped the table and seemed even more energetic to go down and address the press than he had after Lawrence was taken in the first round.
Davis halted the energy in the room, put the squat box on moot, and addressed those assembled around that black slate table. “Have we looked at all possibilities?”
The Raiders had minutes on the clock before their selection had to be submitted, and Davis wanted all his coaches and player personnel staff to review all the data before a final decision. Both Madden and Wolf shied from reopening negotiations when the player they want is on the board. Still, Wolf began reading a list of players next on the Raiders draft reports, so Davis knew what other options there were.
The greatest fear in that room, for reasons I had not yet learned, was that Davis wasn’t going to take Casper, but come up with some longshot that he had a ‘feeling’ about.
“He helps our whole team,” assistant coach Ollie Spencer offered, and Davis snapped back that all he was doing here is ‘what the fuck’ helps the Raiders. “Is that what you are here for too?” Davis posed to Spencer, “Doing whatever it takes to win?”
Spencer had no defense, then Davis looked at Wolf and asked rhetorically, “So Casper is our guy?” Before Wolf had fully answered, while exiting the office through the door behind the head coach’s chair, Davis said, “Put it in coach, he’s your guy.” Davis was leaving the drafting room to take a phone call, his secretary had gotten Henry Lawrence on the line.
“Dave Casper, Notre Dame,” Madden appeared to yell into the squat box seven feet from his location while he was leaning forward with both elbows on the table.
After the Raiders selection of Casper was announced, Weiss said, “The Pittsburgh Steelers are on the clock.” With that selection, the Steelers also picked a future Hall of Fame member, Jack Lambert. The Steelers were a perfect fit for Lambert, who was able to take bold chances with game changing plays made possible by the support of two of the best outside linebackers to ever play the game, Jack Ham and Andy Russell. Because they played a disciplined high IQ brand of football, the mistakes Lambert’s risky plays would have caused for many teams were covered by Ham and Russell.
The Steelers had also picked a Hall of Fame player in the first round that year, two selections after the Raiders took Lawrence, Pittsburgh selected Lynn Swann. The success of the Steelers, which found them winning four Super Bowls with Terry Bradshaw at quarterback, was keyed by four Hall of Fame Members picked by Pittsburgh in the 1974 Draft.
The Steelers added John Stallworth and Mike Webster with 4th and 5th round selections.
Only the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers have more members in the NFL Hall of Fame than Pittsburgh, and the 18 Steelers enshrined in Canton are there because they played on championship teams. They got into a system that best took advantage of their skill set, organizations like Pittsburgh, New England and Green Bay are a lot more likely to fully capitalize on a player's ability than some consistently struggling franchises.
If the Dolphins excel for a decade and more, it will no doubt be based greatly on the play of Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Offensive Lineman Austin Jackson, and cornerback Noa Igbinoghene. Perhaps in 16 years the Dolphins will have added four more Vince Lombardi Trophies to their collection and be waiting to see if the trio of first round selections meet in Canton.