1964 draft was one to remember

Leroy Kelly

Paul Warfield sat in his dormitory on the Ohio State campus -- room 910, Park Hall -- listening to news updates for several hours on a transistor radio. Charley Taylor was sleeping in his apartment at Arizona State. Bob Brown was photographed at the Waldorf Astoria hotel on the day he was drafted, although he can't remember why he was in New York when the draft was held in Chicago.

A fuzzy memory is understandable. After all, it was 50 years ago, long before the NFL draft was a "lights, camera, action" event with red carpets, green rooms and bro hugs with the commissioner.

There was nothing grandiose about the way in which Warfield, Taylor and Brown entered the league, but they sure left it in style. They're among the 11 Pro Football Hall of Famers from the 1964 draft -- 10 legendary players, one legendary coach in Bill Parcells. No draft in history boasts more Hall of Famers than the Class of '64.

The Elite 11.

"It's mind-boggling to think that many Hall of Famers came from one year," Warfield said. "Whether it was a run of luck or just fate, I don't know. But you're talking about a lot of great, great players."

On the morning of Dec. 2, 1963, with the country still in the throes of grief after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, representatives from the NFL's 14 teams gathered in the ballroom of the Chicago Sheraton on Michigan Avenue. With no time restrictions -- the phrase "on the clock" still wasn't part of the vernacular -- the 20-round draft lasted 21 hours, 43 minutes, the longest continuous NFL draft in history.

It ended the following morning at 6:47 a.m. It was a new day, a new era for the NFL.

No one could've predicted greatness for the Class of '64. Who knew? This was before draftniks and mock drafts. Mel Kiper Jr. was only 3 years old, just a toddler with Big Board dreams. But history shows the 11 Hall Of Famers combined for 68 Pro Bowl appearances and nine Super Bowl championships.

The select group includes a "Captain Comeback" (Roger Staubach), an Olympic sprint champion (Bob Hayes), a Purple People Eater (Carl Eller) and the most prolific ball hawk in history (Paul Krause). Let's not forget about Leroy Kelly, Mel Renfro and Dave Wilcox.

The team that benefited most from the draft was the Dallas Cowboys, who picked Staubach, Hayes and Renfro. Not coincidentally, they were the NFC's most dominant team in the 1970s. The Washington Redskins scored with Taylor and Krause, but after four seasons they traded Krause to the Minnesota Vikings, who already had Eller. The Cleveland Browns hit it big, too, choosing Kelly and Warfield, who, like Krause, is best remembered for what he accomplished with his second team, the Miami Dolphins.

Imagine 11 Hall of Famers out of a 280-player draft. Not a bad ratio.

"Isn't that something? It's unbelievable," Krause said.

The biggest losers were the New York Giants, Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions, none of which drafted a Pro Bowl player, let alone a Hall of Famer -- akin to shopping at Tiffany's and having to settle for the prize in a Cracker Jack box. Oh, they picked some good players, but those players opted for the rival league, the AFL.

The Lions picked Parcells in the seventh round, but they cut him in training camp and he decided to pursue coaching after turning down a tempting offer from Pizza Hut. Yes, really. More on that later.

It was a turbulent time in professional football because the fledgling AFL, which held its draft only two days before the NFL, was trying to steal the top players. Warfield, drafted by the AFL's Buffalo Bills, remembers a Bills official trying to get his signature on a contract as he walked off the field after his final college game, which happened to be at Michigan.

"The war was on," said Parcells, recalling the early NFL-AFL battles.

Krause said it was common for teams to use "babysitters" -- team officials who sat with the players throughout the draft. That way, they could get the players to sign immediately while protecting them from stealth attacks from the rival league.

Nowadays, the big-time prospects wait in the green room, surrounded by a well-dressed entourage. Back then, you were in a locked room, guarded by paranoid guys in polyester team garb.

Krause spent his draft day with a rep from another NFL team (he believes it was the Rams), who obviously left disappointed. Eller remembers being surrounded by Vikings personnel in a hotel room. They got their man with the sixth overall pick and kept him for 15 glorious years.

There was no TV coverage. There was no radio coverage. You simply waited for a phone call -- if you were around a phone.

The 22-hour marathon started with the San Francisco 49ers selecting end Dave Parks, who went on to have a nice career.

Next came "Boomer" Brown, a 280-pound road grader, the second overall pick by the Philadelphia Eagles. He was big and nasty and known for his maniacal work ethic. Even now, at 72, after knee and hip replacements, he spends three hours a day at the gym -- one hour on the treadmill, two hours lifting. When he's not working on his own chassis, his passion is restoring vintage cars. How fitting is that?

A short time after Brown was chosen, the phone rang in Taylor's room in Tempe, Ariz. He was asleep.

"My roommate woke me up," Taylor said. "He said, 'The Redskins want to talk to you.' I said, 'What?'"

He expected to be drafted by the Cowboys, but it was Redskins coach Bill McPeak welcoming him to the team. Fifty years later, Taylor remains the second-leading receiver in Redskins' history.

Three picks later, it was Eller's turn. The former University of Minnesota star didn't care about being the first or second pick; his dream was to be drafted by his hometown Vikings.

"Everything worked out super for me," said Eller, one of the most feared pass-rushers in history and still a resident of the Minneapolis area.

Meanwhile, at Park Hall in Columbus, Ohio, Warfield waited. And waited. He expected to be picked fourth by the Cowboys, whose personnel director -- Gil Brandt -- told the electrifying halfback they planned to make him a wide receiver. As it turned out, the Cowboys traded the pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for veteran receiver Buddy Dial.

"I was absolutely crushed," Warfield said.

After several hours of listening for updates on his radio -- remember, no time limit between picks -- he received a call from the Browns, his hometown team. They took Warfield, raised in Warren, Ohio, with the 11th pick.

"I was on cloud nine," he said.

Along came the second round, which lasted as long as a 9-to-5 shift thanks to the Cowboys.

With the 17th overall pick, Brandt wanted to draft Renfro, the top player on his draft board. He was a silky-smooth, ultra-athletic defensive back. But he gashed his wrist before the draft, the result of putting his fist through a glass medicine cabinet. It was his visceral reaction to the JFK tragedy.

Brandt wanted to make sure Renfro was OK before they drafted him, so they dispatched a doctor to the Oregon campus. The doctor drove from Portland to Eugene -- 110 miles. Meanwhile, at the Chicago Sheraton, they waited almost six hours for the Dallas pick.

"At one point, [Vince] Lombardi walked over to our table and said, 'What's the matter, did your computer break down?' " said Brandt, a reference to the Cowboys' cutting-edge scouting methods, which sometimes were mocked by opponents.

As soon as they received clearance from the doctor, the Cowboys made one of their best picks ever. Brandt was so concerned about losing Renfro to the AFL that he flew to Oregon immediately after the draft to sign him. Renfro went on to 10 Pro Bowls, helping Dallas to two Super Bowl titles.

Completing perhaps the greatest daily double in draft history, the Redskins followed the Renfro pick by selecting Krause 18th overall. Like his contemporaries, he was a two-way player in college, so he was bemused when informed that he'd only play defense.

"Pro football was easy," said Krause, who still holds the NFL record with 81 career interceptions. "Heck, we played only half the game. I never got tired."

The 49ers opened the third round by picking Wilcox, a fierce linebacker who would become known as "The Intimidator." The Cowboys were stunned. Without a third-round pick, they targeted him for the fourth round. They were so confident he'd still be there that one of their scouts, Red Hickey, was dispatched to Wilcox's school -- Oregon -- for babysitting duty.

In the seventh round, the Cowboys went outside the box, using a "future" choice on Hayes, a sprint champion who would go on to win two gold medals at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Once regarded as the world's fastest human, he developed his football skills and became a game-changing weapon starting in 1965. Hayes, whose speed forced teams to use zone concepts on defense, died in 2002 and is the only deceased member of the Elite 11.

The Cowboys did it again in the 10th round, taking Staubach even though he had one year of eligibility remaining at the Naval Academy. Due to his military commitment, he didn't start his pro career until 1969 as a 27-year-old rookie. It was worth the wait, as Staubach became one of the transcendent players of his generation, leading Dallas to two Super Bowl titles.

The long shot of the group was Kelly, an eighth-round pick from Morgan State -- the only small-school player among the Class of '64 Hall of Famers. In Cleveland, he played behind the great Jim Brown for two years, earning his keep on special teams. When Brown retired unexpectedly after the 1965 season, the next man up was Kelly, who went on to make six straight Pro Bowls.

No one ever predicted stardom for Parcells, at least not as a player. He was a hard-nosed offensive lineman for Wichita State and played for then- Oakland Raiders coach Al Davis in a college all-star game known as the Challenge Bowl in Corpus Christi, Texas. He must have done something right, because the Lions picked him in the seventh round, one spot after Hayes.

"I always tell Bill that we had him rated higher than Hayes, but Hayes was just a little bit faster," Brandt said with a laugh.

After getting cut, Parcells recognized he had no future as a player, so he weighed his options: law school, coaching or the pizza business.

During college, he worked as a manager at a Pizza Hut restaurant in Wichita, where the chain was founded by Dan and Frank Carney. After graduation, Parcells was offered his own franchise. At a crossroads in his life, he gave it strong consideration.

"I was one of their hometown boys," Parcells said. "It was pretty attractive. They made me guarantees that weren't common in coaching, economically."

Parcells followed his heart instead of the get-rich-quick possibilities of the pizza business. He pursued coaching, establishing a legacy as one of the great franchise fixers in history. He has a lifetime in indelible memories and, yes, bling -- two Super Bowl rings.

Aside from Parcells, the draft produced several other well-known coaches, including longtime NFL assistants Monte Kiffin, Sherman Lewis and Howard Mudd. Bill Curry, the next-to-last player chosen (279th), ended up coaching three decades on the college level.

Parcells remembers coaching against Kiffin in the Bluebonnet Bowl in the old Astrodome, when they were both young college assistants.

Some members of the class first crossed paths before the '64 draft, with connections back to high school in some cases. Warfield and Krause competed against each other in a regional track meet on the prep level. Staubach and Warfield played on opposite sides in an Ohio all-star game, with Staubach nearly pulling off a miracle comeback -- a harbinger of his NFL career.

Renfro and Warfield went head-to-head in a college track meet, with Warfield edging him by a half-inch in the long jump. Taylor was assigned to cover Warfield in a college all-star game. Brown blocked Eller for an entire Nebraska-Minnesota game, an intense personal rivalry they renewed in the NFL.

"He haunted me all my life, it seemed like," Eller said. "Now he's one of my best football friends."

They were inducted in the Hall of Fame the same year, 2004, the eighth and ninth members of the Elite 11 to reach Canton. Brown and Eller are 72 years old; the rest of the surviving 10 are 71 or 72, spread across the country, yet joined by an invisible bond.

"We must have been rockin' pretty good in '64," Brown said with a laugh. "Was it something in the water or what?"

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