Editor's Note: This was submitted to BTSC from Rodney Ketterlen, the founder and chairman of an NFL scouting service that shall remain anonymous due to a number of NFL teams that use it, as well as the NFL's pending cease and desist order. Over the next week, Ketterlen is going to go into the history of his company and testing procedures, and provide BTSC with exclusive information about the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft.
It was Christmas of 1978 when I first heard the story of Jim Spavital. I was nearly nine-years-old and living in the small town of Pocomoke City, Maryland, rooting blindly for a bad Baltimore Colts team who's '78 season was a paltry 5-11. I enjoyed football from a young age because my grandfather, Darrell Ketterlen, better known as "Rusty" to those who knew him, was a long-time football scout in the 40's and 50's for several teams.
It was holiday gathering when he told me about his greatest triumph as a scout, and ultimately, his greatest defeat. At the time, Gramps was working for the Chicago Cardinals franchise, which of course, is known today as the Arizona Cardinals. Gramps prided himself on always being ahead of the curve, searching for attributes in players other franchises wouldn't dream about. Gramps proclaims at the time he was known in league circles as "The most controversial man in football." I didn't buy it at the time, but I certainly do now.
This is where Spavital comes in, a full back who played his college back for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Spavital was not considered a highly-touted prospect, but was going to be drafted. At 6-1, 210 pounds, he didn't have ideal size for the bruising style pro football was in the late 40's, but it didn't deter Gramps.
"He had the fastest Fear Run I have seen to this day," Gramps said, years later. Gramps was never focused on just the standard testing for physical attributes, and he went beyond. "Rusty" Ketterlen was one of the first front-office scouts to test player's mental stability, and was certainly the first to mesh the two together.
The Fear Run was one of the first of its kind in this type of testing. He would test players psychologically to determine their biggest fear, because, "You always have to play football with an element of deathly fear, otherwise you will be the player getting concussed," Gramps always said. After determining said fear, Gramps would strategically plant this fear into the Fear Run, which later became known as today's "Shuttle Run."
For example, if a player's biggest fear was snakes, he would put two bins of snakes 100 yards apart at each end zone and make the player carry the snakes from one end to another. The concept wasn't genius, but the results where.
Spavital's biggest fear was being buried alive, and Gramps was quick to put this fear into the testing to be help scout his ability to play football. Additional psychological testing showed Spavital also was a bird lover, so Gramps actually buried two Blue Jays alive at one end of the end zone. Spavital had to carry a shovel the length of the field and free the Jays as quick as possible.
"I've never seen a human being with such a confused look on his face during the explanation of the drill move so quickly when he realized we weren't kidding," Gramps once recalled. Leaving no stone unturned, to complete the drill, Spavital had to return to the opposite end zone with the same shovel and break a solid granite tombstone, which was custom made for this drill with the names of the two Blue Jays inscribed on it. "Barry and Gil were the names," Gramps said once. "And we got an additional strength reading as well."
Court records from the lawsuit filed by P.E.T.A. decades later in 1988, (which was settled for an undisclosed amount), indicated the team believed the added the personalization to each drill allowed them to have information no other team had.
As mentioned, the shuttle run replaced the Fear Run, (A few hours after the Spavital drill, as a matter of fact), but Gramps had the exclusive information needed. He used this information to convince the Cardinals to select Spavital 11th overall in the 1948 draft.
After Spavital didn't see the field in 1948 for various "Political reasons that had nothing to do with his ability as a player," as Gramps puts it, the Cardinals decided to move on from the Spavital blunder of '48. "Rusty" Ketterlen was fired and Spavital was "moved" to the Los Angeles Dons in 1949.
Gramps never lost his faith.
In 1949, Spavital carried the ball 15 times for 44 yards for the Dons. He did however register four interceptions that year as a linebacker.
"None of our testing showed that he would even play defense at this level," Gramps recalled. "In fact, when they played him on defense, they took away his focus as a runner."
Given his success in 1949 on the defensive side of the ball, Spavital was traded to the Baltimore Colts, where he again had success on defense. But that's not what the world remembers Spavital for, nor what brings a smile to an old scout.
The Baltimore Colts had started the 1950 season 0-6 and were looking for answers, especially on offense. Filling in for ... someone, Spavital entered the starting lineup at full back Nov. 5, 1950 against an equally bad Green Bay Packers and what happened next is that of legend. Trailing 7-0 in the second quarter, Spavital once again found the fear, and ripped of a 46-yard touchdown run to tie the game 7-7.
But that was just the beginning of this historic day for Spavital, who rushed 15 times for 176 yards, both career highs, and scored three total touchdowns, the only three touchdowns of his career. The touchdowns also included a 45-yard receiving touchdown and a 96-yard TD run, which was the longest run in pro football in 1950 and still probably a Colts record today.
"I bet he was thinking of Barry and Gil that day," Gramps said Spavital probably said after the game. "He found the fear." Gramps still has those four words tattooed on his chest.
The Baltimore Colts won the game 41-21, and it was their only win of the season. No one knows why Spavital never got another chance to play in pro football after that season. Perhaps it was his focus on defense, perhaps it was his 43 carries for 70 yards after the fateful game, or perhaps he just decided the pinnacle had been reached.
"It really doesn't matter why he didn't play after that season, it proved I saw something now one else did," Gramps still says. "My testing works."
After the game, Gramps got another gig with the Chicago Bears in 1951, but was quickly terminated in 1951 when the "Shot Put Dodging" test went horribly awry. But in 1994 I decided to continue his legacy by modernizing his secrets and unique ways of testing players and built a scouting service many NFL teams still pay for to this day. Over the next week, I will offer some tidbits on what we do, how the NFL has tried to shut us down, and give you, the readers of BTSC, an inside look at this year's NFL draft.
Ketterlen disabled his Twitter account