That One Time the Falcons Drafted John Wayne

There aren't many guarantees at the NFL Draft, but you can always count on it being a long, drawn out affair.

This week, for instance, the draft will persist for three days, seven rounds and 253 selections; wall-to-wall coverage on television, radio and the internet will be there for every moment.

All things considered, no one will judge you if you tap out before Mr. Irrelevant learns his fate.

But this is nothing compared to the early 70s, when the draft had 17—yes, 17—rounds. As you can imagine, the talent was scarce after hundreds upon hundreds of athletes were off the board. So in 1972, Norm Van Brocklin, Atlanta's head coach at the time, went an untraditional route with his final choice.

According to an ESPN article from a time when gold text backgrounds weren't frowned upon, Van Brocklin stood up and asked his staff, "Do we want the roughest, toughest S.O.B. in the draft?!" Everyone said yes, obviously, because this is the 70s we're talking about here. America was still great; toughness was at a premium.

Van Brocklin then called NFL headquarters and announced, "Atlanta picks John Wayne of Fort Apache State."

Yes, that John Wayne.

This Throwback Thursday, we're taking at look some of the Falcons greats as we continue to celebrate 50 seasons, presented by Equifax.

The Academy Award-winning actor, best known as a Western film icon, had a reputation for being a gritty, hard-nosed man, one who knew what it took to be a hero. And those Falcons, still searching for their first-ever playoff berth, needed a hero.

Per the estimable Florence Times-Tri Cities Daily, Atlanta's spokesman called Wayne "a big, strong guy who has also had some success in a couple of movie roles." In other words, football's Shaquille O'Neal.

True, Wayne was 64 years old when Van Brocklin shouted his name into a war room phone, but the Hollywood star had intangibles Atlanta simply couldn't find elsewhere. Why not give him a chance?

(It's worth noting that Wayne also had relevant experience: As a kid, he wrote sports reports for his high school newspaper. And we all know that you're only allowed to write about sports if you're great at playing them, too. What's more, Wayne played a football coach in the 1953 picture Trouble Along the Way, so he probably had the Xs and Os down pat.)

Unfortunately, Wayne never got an opportunity to don the red and black, as commissioner Pete Rozelle disallowed the move. Atlanta ended up using its last pick—No. 431 overall, a real prized asset—on Southern California RB Bill Holland, who played as many NFL snaps as Wayne: zero.

Why did Rozelle step in? The answer isn't as simple as you may believe. Again, from the Florence Times-Tri Cities Daily:

"While the Falcons' 'sleeper pick' was duly posted, amid tired titters from the gallery, a New Orleans representative flashed frantic hand signals to his counterpart from Washington. Minutes later, 'John Wayne of Apache II' was exposed as fraud—and the Saints and Redskins consummated the ninth trade of the draft meeting."

Of course, the Saints ruined it. Of course.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content