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The NFL draft makes the move to prime time with the first round taking place Thursday April 22 at 7:30 eastern. The NFL draft has become a huge ratings draw for ESPN.

However, when they first started airing the draft in 1980, it wasn’t at all obvious how popular it would become. According to

At the time, the Draft was held in a hotel and was a low-key affair, which led then-commissioner Pete Rozelle to question why any network would want to televise the draft. Eventually, ESPN’s televised coverage of the draft led to it becoming a larger event, necessitating a move to the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden and, in 2006, Radio City Music Hall.

In 1988, the first day of the draft was held on a Sunday, and ESPN drew a 3.6 rating during its seven-hour coverage of the draft. Over the last 20 years, the NFL Draft has consistently drawn more than five million viewers on American television.

Looking back at that first televised draft, the first three picks produced a good player, a great player and a bust.

The Detroit Lions took Oklahoma running back Billy Sims with the first overall pick. Sims won the Heisman Trophy as a junior in 1978 and was runner-up as senior. With the Lions, Sims was a three-time Pro-Bowler before a devastating knee injury ended his career in 1984.

After trading the 13th and 20th picks to move up to second, the Jets selected Johnny “Lam” Jones, from the University of Texas. Jones was a sprinter who won a gold medal in the 1976 Olympics as part of the 4 x 100 relay team. He was fast and could beat any defensive back.

“They had Wesley Walker at the time and I guess they just envisioned frightening defenses with two guys with Olympic speed,” said Rich Cimini, who has covered the Jets for more than two decades, first with Newsday and now for the New York Daily News. “I know they felt teams were starting to shade toward Wesley and they wanted to put another guy on the field to help him.” Thirty years ago: Johnny Lam Jones

The problem was he couldn’t catch and he was injury prone. He played 5 mediocre seasons, spent two seasons on IR, was traded to the 49ers in 1987, released, picked up by the Cowboys and released again, ending his career in 1987. He ranks pretty high on the Jets draft bust list.

Cincinnati took USC offensive tackle Anthony Munoz with the third pick. Munoz went on to become, perhaps, the greatest offensive tackle in the history of the NFL. In addition to football, Munoz was a baseball star for the Trojans, pitching for their national championship team in 1978.

When the Bengals drafted him, it was a much bigger question mark than either Jones or Sims. Munoz struggled with knee problems throughout the last two years of his college career and many questioned his durability. Munoz turned out to be the best selection of the three, playing in 185 games in 13 seasons, elected to the Pro Bowl eleven times and voted into the Hall of Fame in 1998.

Since that draft in 1980, the draft has turned into a major media event. Not only does the draft air on two different stations, but shows about the biggest draft busts and best draft picks can be seen on every sports station. And the first three picks from 1980 elicit emotional responses from their respective cities. Sims and Munoz are still popular in Detroit and Cincinnati, while just the “Lam” makes Jets fans cringe.

On Thursday, some people will cheer and some will boo and some will question the sanity of some GM. But like, 1980, no one knows how it will turn out which is what makes every draft so exciting.


One Comment

  1. Jets fans OWN the televised draft! Remember when they booed Kyle Brady after the team drafted him over Warren Sapp? I think that was in 1995. Classic! Love it. Great blog.

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