The NFL draft has been in existence for 76 years in various formats, and wouldn't you know it but The Chief, Art Rooney, is in many ways responsible for the draft, as he was so many things that have made the NFL the most successful sport in America. In this Part I, I will highlight some interesting facts about the NFL Draft, as they pertain to influences the Steelers Organization has had upon it. In Part II, I will subject you to some stats (go ahead and groan) about the Steelers' drafting history.
In 1934, Mr. Rooney as owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates football team was involved in a transaction involving two players rights with Tim Mara and the New York Football Giants. The transaction was protested by the owner of the Boston Redskins, George P. Marshall, and the league disallowed it. The owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, Bert Bell, voiced concerns over his (and the other teams less competitive than the powerhouses of the day, the Giants, Redskins, Packers and Bears) inability to attract talented players, and in 1935 Bell submitted to the league a proposal for an organized draft system.
In 1936 the first NFL draft was held. A total of 90 player names were submitted for consideration, and there were to be 9 rounds. Incredibly, only 24 of the 81 players selected actually agreed to play.
In 1938, Mr. Rooney again had a major impact on the league when he agreed to a give University of Colorado's scholar/athlete Byron "Whizzer" White a guaranteed contract, for the (then) astronomical amount of $15,000, and in doing so, planted the seed of what is today, "visions of dollar signs" dancing in the heads of college players. Rooney selected White despite White's public statements that he was going to pursue his Rhodes Scholarship (sound familiar Myron Rolle?). White played only one season for the Steelers, leading the league in rushing (and becoming the league's highest paid player), electing to indeed get his Rhodes scholarship from Hertford College, Oxford in 1939. White played football for two years for the Detroit Lions in 1940 thru 1941 then entered the U.S. Navy to fight in World War II. He later became an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
The first official team talent "scout" was Eddie Kotal, who was hired by Dan Reeves of the Los Angeles Rams, in 1946.
In 1963, the Steelers joined the Eagles and Detroit Lions in forming LESTO (Lions, Eagles and Steelers Talent Organization), which became BLESTO a year later when the Chicago Bears joined. This was the first organized, multi-team effort at scouting college players; until then, each team had its own scouting department, to one degree or another. Steeler Head Coach Buddy Parker is credited by Dan Rooney in Rooney's autobiography ("Dan Rooney My 75 Years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL" pg 128) with coming up with the idea. BLESTO enabled the members to share in the cost of finding talented college players and imposed the first set of uniform "measurables" (e.g. height, weight, speed, strength and productivity).
In 1966, William "Bullet Bill" Dudley, the 1st overall pick of the 1942 draft, as selected by the Steelers, became the first such overall 1st first round pick to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Dudley, who played as a Halfback, Defensive Back, Punter and Kicker, played his first three years (1942, 1945-1946) with the Steelers, then playing six more years (3 each) with the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins, retiring after the 1953 season. As a Steeler, Dudley led the league in rushing, completed 35 of 94 passes for 438 yards and two touchdowns, punted 18 times, returned 20 punts, and ran back 11 kickoffs, scoring 1 touchdown. In his very first game in the NFL, Dudley ran for a 55 yard touchdown. He later made 2 Pro Bowls (1950-51), was named League MVP (1946) and was later named to the NFL's 1940's All Decade Team.
In 1967, Bill Nunn joined the Steelers part time as a scout, becoming full time in 1969. Nunn was a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Courier, considered one of the nation's most influential Black newspapers. Nunn had a profound impact on the Steelers' dynasty, scouting the smaller schools in the South, where he found such iconic Steelers as Mel Blount, John Stallworth, and L.C. Greenwood (click this link to go to the "Elect L.C. Greenwood Professional Football Hall of Fame facebook page to support efforts to get L.C in alongside Mel Blount and Charles Edward Greene). Although semi-retired, Bill Nunn is still with the Steelers as a scout.