Did Two NFL Teams Once Fight Over the Right to Make the Last Pick in the NFL Draft?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about football and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the football urban legends featured so far.

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The Steelers and the Rams both tried to get the final pick in the 1979 NFL Draft, forcing the commissioner to institute a new rule for the draft.

On January 20, 1980, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Los Angeles Rams 31-19 in the Super Bowl for their (at the time) record fourth NFL Championship (after being passed by both the Cowboys and 49ers, the Steelers have since reclaimed the crown by winning two more titles in 2005 and 2008).

Four months later, the Rams were once again defeated by the Steelers, only in a rather bizarre squabble over who got to make the last pick in the 1980 NFL Draft!

As I wrote about recently, the last player picked in the NFL Draft is dubbed “Mr. Irrelevant” and he and his family are invited to Newport Beach for a weekend in the summer following the draft devoted to celebrating him, all for charity, with a golf tournament, a regatta, a roast where people give the player advice and, of course, the awarding of the Lowsman Trophy (a parody of the Heisman Trophy, with the trophy fumbling the ball).

The concept was invented by former NFL player Paul Salata in 1976 and by 1980, the whole thing had become quite a big to-do. As the defending Super Bowl winners, the Steelers picked last in 1979 and that player, Mike Almond, was the first player to actually receive the Lowsman Tropy (as it had just been created).

The whole thing had become a big enough deal that the Rams decided that they wanted to be part of it. As Super Bowl runners-up, they picked second-to-last in the draft. They said that they would pass and let the Steelers pick and then they would pick. The Steelers, naturally, declined, as they wanted to have the last pick to get Mr. Irrelevant themselves.

They were at an impasse, leading to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle calling up both teams and telling the Rams to just make the second-to-last pick. The Steelers ended the draft by taking Guard Tyrone McGriff.

Rozelle instituted a rule (often referred to as the Salata Rule) that essentially says that teams cannot do what the Rams tried to do. The team given the last pick in the draft has to make the final pick.

Here’s an interesting angle on the situation, though, which confuses me a bit. The Rams picked third-to-last the previous year. With their pick, they selected Drew Hill, who was good enough to make their team as their kick returner (he was traded to Houston in 1984, and he promptly became a standout wide receiver, making two Pro Bowls while paired with Warren Moon).

So they just saw that picking that deep in the draft could still get you a good player, so why risk the possibility of maybe getting a good player for the publicity of getting Mr. Irrelevant?

In any event, the legend is…

STATUS: True

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is [email protected]

2 Responses to “Did Two NFL Teams Once Fight Over the Right to Make the Last Pick in the NFL Draft?”

  1. Typo: You said initially that the *Raiders* tried to get the last pick, instead of the *Steelers*.

    “FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The Raiders and the Rams both tried to get the final pick in…”

  2. Brian Cronin on May 6th, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    Thanks, Jay, I’ll fix that!

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