In 1986, the NFL Draft wasn't what it would ultimately become.
The event was held on a Tuesday morning and started at 7 a.m. For the average fan who wanted to know the prospects, you could read about them in the local newspaper a week or two before the draft, or if you were really ambitious (and 13, like I was at the time), you could ask your mother for a few dollars to buy a magazine titled: "NFL Draft '86" or whatever.
I didn't buy a magazine. Instead, I prepared for the '86 draft by haphazardly doing my homework, watching shows like Knight Rider and hoping a "name" player such as fullback Keith Byars out of Ohio State would be Pittsburgh's first round choice.
You see, the Steelers, who finished at 7-9 in 1985, somehow managed the ninth pick in the draft (their highest in 15 years); what better way to rebuild the Super Bowl dynasty of the 1970s than by taking a productive college fullback who could replace Franco Harris, just two years after his unceremonious departure from the team?
Anyway, after my Tuesday at school that probably consisted of things like talking about Knight Rider with other kids, I rushed home to see who the Steelers had selected. I don't think we had cable that year, but I do remember seeing a scroll at the bottom of the television screen that listed Pittsburgh's choices (believe it or not, the draft was pretty much done by that point--and it was 12 rounds in those days).
When I finally read: "John Rienstra, guard, Temple," I was disappointed. For one thing, I had never heard of Rienstra. And, two, he certainly wasn't Keith Byars.
What furthered my disappointment was ultimately discovering that the Eagles had drafted Byars one spot after Pittsburgh selected Rienstra.
So, who had the better career?
In 13 seasons, Byars recorded over 8,700 yards from scrimmage, caught 610 passes out of the backfield and made the Pro Bowl in 1993 as a member of the Dolphins.
Rienstra, on the other hand, lasted five years with the Steelers, never made the Pro Bowl and, after playing two years with the Browns, was out of football following the '92 campaign.
In addition to Byars, the Steelers also passed on John L. Williams (fullback, Florida), Ronnie Harmon (running back, Iowa), Will Wolford (tackle, Vanderbilt) and Neal Anderson (running back, Florida). Combined, those four players appeared in 10 Pro Bowls during their careers. In-case you're not counting at home, that's 11 trips to Hawaii for players Pittsburgh passed on in the first round of the 1986 NFL Draft.
The following year, 1987, the Steelers again had the ninth pick in the first round and chose Rod Woodson, future all-time great cornerback, Purdue.
The '87 draft was the last one held on Tuesday morning, and my mom allowed me to stay home from school to watch it (we must have had cable that year). Why? Maybe so I'd be able to write about it on some Steelers site 30 years down the road. At any rate, it was the single greatest draft experience of my life (it still hasn't been topped), and I hope some 13 year old (or, let's face it, some 53 year old) gets to experience that same feeling this Thursday, when the Steelers draft the future Woodson.
Although, it could be Rienstra.
Either way, you'll have a story to tell.
The draft is like that.