It's April 26, 2012 and this is the biggest day of my life. In a few hours, my first NFL draft as the General Manager of the St. Louis Rams begins. I look around the War Room I've just entered and I have to pinch myself to make sure this is all real--for only three months earlier I sat perched in my holiday slippers while throwing F-Bombs at my television, arguing with other fans on message boards and toasting the removal of the most recent failed regime. In 35 years of religiously following this team, I am now responsible for helping to shape the next decade of the franchise.
I have everything I could possibly need for the next eight hours--scouting reports, NFL rosters, contact numbers of other GM's--and I take the seat reserved in advance for me by the Ol' Man. As I plop all of my material in front of me and reach for the Ram coffee pot, I'm suddenly awe-struck by my peers in the room...the stoic Jeff Fisher to my left and Kevin Demoff to my right. In a corner near the window, Marshall Faulk and Dick Vermeil share a fond memory. In front of me, at the far-off head of the table, the Old Man, Mr. Kroenke, sits patiently, just a man and his thoughts. He has paid millions for the services of the men in this room--a quiet confidence that this staff will help lead his team back to championship form.
Behind him, a man I've never seen before but one with a vague familiarity. It must be the wait staff hired by Mr. Kroenke, as he looks nothing like a "football guy".
"Johnny?" Demoff calls to the stranger. "I ordered the beans in this coffee directly from Nicaragua. Wanna taste a cup?"
"Sure, Kev'," Johnny replies, and as he comes to retrieve the cup from Demoff, his identity becomes all too clear.
John Shaw, what the hell is he doing here???
My mojo has been shocked, rocked and floored as I stand up and pace the room. Visibly nervous, I don't know whether to ask to speak to the Old Man in private or to personally escort Shaw out of the room by his sized nine necktie. Sensing my quiet rage, Vermeil approaches me, puts his hands on my shoulders and looks squarely into my eyes over his glasses. "I know what you're thinking, my friend. But I promise you, he will not get in our way."
Vermeil removes his glasses from his wrinkled nose. "Do you hear me? I know this is a big moment for you but I trust ya...I love ya... and you have nothing to worry about. You will be rallied around and you will draft good football players."
I thank the ol' coach and take a deep breath, doing my best to ignore the bad karma suddenly engulfing the room. I have to, for I know how much is at stake for this team, this city and this fan base.
I spend the next several hours going over our Big Board, reading player profiles, comparing notes from the combine and players' Wonderlic scores. I touch base with a couple of teams who I've been in lengthy discussions with about trades, swaps and general draft banter. We have one verbally-agreed upon move that hasn't been disclosed to the media. Some others we're close on and will have to continue pounding the phones once the draft begins. We hold a very valuable position in this draft and though other GM's might not want to disclose their envy too early, I know they're salivating at the thought of having some of these blue chippers lead their respective teams for years to come...to either help return their once-proud franchises to more glorious days or to burn a trail to a promised land they've never reached. As we make a final call to our representatives at Radio City Music Hall, the Old Man stands up.
"Gentleman," he begins. "We've suffered seven seasons of some of the worst football this league has ever seen. Some of us have, naturally, been more personally affected by the team's collapse as some of us have been here longer. Now I don't know exactly what the future holds for either of us in this room but i can promise you this. By the end of this weekend, teams will both respect and fear the St. Louis Rams. Good luck, boys."
With that, the Old Man turned up the volume on the big screen and left the room...entrusting the fate of his franchise with his hired help.
"Welcome to the 2012 NFL Draft," Roger Goodell said as the festivities were underway. Handshakes and "good lucks" are shared around the room and, yes, I even shake John Shaw's hand. Even after over four months of doing nothing but preparing for this weekend, there is a quiet nervousness about the room. I guess it's just a natural feeling, even though we know who the #1 pick is going to be and we know within 3 to 4 spots where most every player in the first two rounds is going to be drafted. Still, the butterflies in my stomach have turned to a swarm of bats.
Again I call our reps in New York as Goodell announces the first new NFL millionaire's name.
"With the first pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts select...Andrew Luck, quarterback from Stanford University."
"The St. Louis Rams are on the clock," Goodell announces. But before Andrew Luck even makes it to the stage, I'm on the phone to make sure the all the T's are crossed and I's are dotted on our imminent transaction. Goodell returns to the stage.
"We have a trade". I sit back, listening to the noise in the audience go silent. "The St. Louis Rams have traded the second pick in the draft to the Cleveland Browns...." The crowd gets louder, knowing what the Browns are up to.
"...With the second pick of the 2012 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns select....Robert Griffin the Third."
More raucous in the audience as the Heisman Trophy winner dawns a Browns' cap and gives Goodell a hug fitting of the bear from Baylor. Goodell would then announce the particulars of the trade which all of us in the St. Louis war room felt was a bonanza for our cause. In return for just moving two spots down, the Browns, in addition to that #4 pick, agreed to give us their 24th pick which they had via their 2011 trade with Atlanta and their third round pick which is #68 overall. Everyone in the room feels like this is stealing, knowing we're still in line to draft the player we've been targeting for months.
While the time starts ticking down for the Vikings' pick, our phone rings. Another team wants to deal with us too. We had a feeling they might be calling a team in the top 5 so it's obvious we'd now be their target. They offered us a deal in the past few days but it wasn't nearly enough for us to move down and lose out on our next face of the franchise. Now, they've called to sweeten the pot. We turn off the speaker phone and discuss the deal amongst ourselves as Goodell announces the Matt Kalil will be a Minnesota Viking.
The Rams are back on the clock. "It's a heck of a deal. I think we should do it," Marshall offers.
"True," I respond. "But you know the consequences. What do you think, Coach? Do you want to drop down that far?"
Coach Fisher rubs his moustache. "Well I certainly didn't plan on it. But we can still get a decent player at the position...a sure starter at linebacker, perhaps a lineman.....tough call."
"What do you think, John?" asks Demoff.
"Really???" I ask Kevin, as Shaw shuffles some papers in his hands.
"Well," Shaw begins. "My advice is that we should stay where we are and draft Montee Ball."
Fisher gets out of his seat. "John, if you didn't know this yet, I'm telling you now. That's the kinda of cockamamie incompetence that led me to hightail it out of LA over twenty years ago."
"Ok guys. Come on now," Vermeil reasons. "We got about 80 seconds before the pick has to be in. Where are we going with this?"
"I'm giving this one to our GM," Fisher says.
With that, I pick up the phone and a moment later, Goodell is back on stage. "The St. Louis Rams have traded the fourth pick of the draft to Cincinnati for the Bengals' 17th and 22nd picks in Round One, their 54th pick in Round Two and their Second Round pick in 2013....with the fourth pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals select....Trent Richardson, running back, Alabama."
There is a silence in the war room. While we had talks with the Bengals, we never thought we'd trade so far down the first round and we're all a little unsure about the direction of the draft from here on out. But in return for moving out of the Number Two pick, we are now staring at picks 17, 22, 24 of the first round, picks 33 and 54 in the second, picks 67 and 68 in the third and an extra second round pick in 2013. The scowl has briefly left Fisher's face when he realizes all the ammunition now at his disposal...and with the information we've accumulated over the past several months, we know we can possibly get back into the Top 10.
I'm instantly on the phone with Tampa Bay. The Bucs' defense is a mess and there isn't just one clear area of need for them. They hired Jerry Gray as their head coach and his first order of business will be to fix that defense that gave up so many points at the end of last season. With Richardson off the board, Tampa Bay is looking at a reach at best. I give them an offer they can't refuse. In return for their 5th pick of the draft, Tampa Bay accepts my offer of picks 17, 33 and 67 in this draft and the Rams' 3rd rounder in 2013.
With that, Roger Goodell delivers the particulars of the trade and then the pick. "With the 5th pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams select....Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State."
And upon that announcement, quiet elation around the room, as we got the player we all wanted. And in addition to drafting, who we felt was the best player in the entire draft, we also still have picks two more picks in the first round. With due diligence and creativity, I helped take on the enormous task of helping to rebuild this football team. None of us in the room can believe what we just pulled off. As most of us high-five one another, Shaw excuses himself out the back door while the Old Man returns through the front, writing on a small tablet with a pencil from his ear as he approaches me.
"Let me see if I have this correct," he says. "So...in exchange for a 3rd round pick this year and next and to move down just three spots from #2 to #5, we accumulated the 22nd, the 24th, the 68th and a second round pick in 2013? I'm correct, right? We drafted Blackmon and still have two #1's, a two, a three and an extra #2 next year?"
Vermeil puts his arm around the Old Man. "That's right, Stan. You're going to be the owner of one hell of a football team."
"Gentleman," declares the Old Man. "it's a great day to be a Ram."
And again I have to pinch myself.