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John Lee Gets Boot Out of NFL Draft

May 01, 1986|BRIAN LANDMAN | Times Staff Writer

Dave Franey could only grin when roommate John Lee was selected in the second round of the National Football League draft.

During the last year, Lee, UCLA's All-American place-kicker, had teased Franey, a backup kicker who will be with the Bruins in the fall, about being from Missouri. So it was a dose of poetic justice when the St. Louis Cardinals made Lee the 32nd pick of the draft.

"I guess I can't tease him about that anymore," Lee said with a smile.

Of course, no one is teasing Lee about going to the NFL via Missouri.

Lee, a native of Seoul, South Korea, was the first Asian ever chosen in the draft and the fourth-highest selection ever of a kicker. Of the three kickers who were first-round picks--Charlie Gogolak, chosen by Washington in 1966; Steve Little, by St. Louis in 1978 and Russell Erxleben, by New Orleans in 1979--only Gogolak distinguished himself in the NFL.

"That's a stunning recognition in terms of kickers," said Leigh Steinberg, Lee's attorney, who said he expected Lee to go in the third round.

But no one was more surprised than Lee.

He arrived at Steinberg's West Los Angeles home to watch the draft on ESPN about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, more than three hours after Tampa Bay announced its first pick. And he wouldn't have come that early if it hadn't been for Steinberg's urging.

"I'm just going to watch the first two rounds like I'm watching a car commercial," Lee said. "I have nothing to do with it.

"I know that kickers have a tradition of not getting drafted too high. If I had to start over again, I'd be a quarterback. Then I'd go earlier. But that's (kicking) what I chose to do and I'm going to stick with it."

A quick glance at record books will show that Lee made the right decision.

He holds NCAA marks for field goals in a season with 29 and in a career, 79, breaking the record of 78 set by Luis Zendejas of Arizona State. His extra-point conversion percentage of .859 (79 of 92), shattered the mark of .814 set by Chuck Nelson of Washington.

Still, Lee was pessimistic about being drafted in early rounds, figuring that the latter stage of the third round was the most probable spot. And on the eve of the draft he needed reassurance that he'd be drafted at all.

"Let's be honest," said Steinberg as he put an arm around Lee after the draft. "Last night, he called me and said, 'Are you sure I'll be drafted?' "

So, as the first round dragged on into its record-breaking fourth hour, Lee huddled in the back room with his parents, Edward and Grace. Lee, suffering from a cold and a night with virtually no sleep, was wrapped in a blanket.

'Whoa!' He's Drafted

His mother, who seemed more concerned about her son's cold than the draft, nervously watched television. Suddenly, the chills he was feeling were not from a cold but from hearing his name on TV.

He jumped to his feet and jubilantly let out a single yell, "Whoa," before nonchalantly answering questions from a dozen reporters.

"I'm very relieved it's over and I'm honored," Lee said. "Now, I've got to do my best to make sure they didn't waste a No. 2 draft pick."

But before Lee starts kicking field goals for the Cardinals, he, Steinberg and the Cardinals have negotiating to do.

Steinberg, who represents first-round picks Jim FitzPatrick, an offensive lineman from USC taken with the 13th pick by San Diego, and UCLA's Mike Sherrard, a wide receiver nabbed by Dallas five slots later, has several St. Louis clients, including starting quarterback Neil Lomax.

While Steinberg would not say what kind of money Lee can expect, he did say that being the fourth-highest place-kicker selection ever will translate into a lot of dollars. But as with all clients, part of Lee's salary will go for charity.

"I've made it a policy not to take a client unless he's willing to utilize that high profile to try to make a positive impact on the world," he said.

Warren Moon, the Houston Oilers quarterback, established a scholarship at his high school, Hamilton in West Los Angeles; quarterback Steve Young of Tampa Bay, formerly of the Los Angeles Express, gave $180,000 to BYU for a scholarship fund, and both linebacker Duane Bickett of Indianapolis and offensive lineman Ken Reuttgers of Green Bay gave $15,000 to USC, their alma mater.

Lee said he is thinking about programs for his current hometown of Downey or setting up a scholarship fund at UCLA. But he said he definitely wants to do something for the Korean community.

"I just want to do something nice," said Lee, who came to the U. S. when he was 12 and became a citizen in November. "Hopefully it will help give athletes a good reputation. And I want to be a good role model for the kids."

Steinberg, who was recommended by former Bruin kicker Peter Boermeester, said that after spending a lot of time with Lee he has no doubt that Lee will be a credit to the Korean community.

"All Asians will be able to take a great deal of pride in him," Steinberg said.

Steinberg said that the questions NFL scouts had about Lee concerned his ability to kick off and to kick without a tee, which he did not do at UCLA.

But Lee tried to answer those questions at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last January. Lee sent all eight of his kickoffs into the end zone and kicked a 53-yard field goal.

"I have a lot of kickers like Rolf Benirschke (San Diego), Nick Lowery (Kansas City) and Jimmy Breech (Cincinnati), and I'd say that John has more potential coming out of school than any of them," Steinberg said. "As far as I'm concerned, he can't miss."

If his college career was an indication, Lee will show the NFL and his new home of Missouri that he doesn't miss often.

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