SAN DIEGO — National Football League draft day in 1986 was one of the worst experiences of Sean Salisbury's life.
After winning All-American honors as a quarterback at Orange Glen High School in Escondido and completing a fine career at USC, Salisbury patiently awaited the telephone call that would tell him where he would next take his talents. His phone never rang.
Three hundred thirty-five college players were drafted, and Salisbury wasn't one of them. To say he was devastated would be to understate the case.
Salisbury eventually caught on with the Seattle Seahawks as a free agent, then moved on to Indianapolis. He will have a homecoming of sorts Sunday when the Colts meet the Chargers at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
But as happy as he is to have reached his goal of playing in the NFL, the draft snub still bugs him.
"It was a terrible thing for me," Salisbury said in a telephone interview. "It was a shocker. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy."
Salisbury was hampered by knee injuries at USC, but his numbers were impressive. He became the Trojans' all-time leader in completions and yardage, 346 of 602 for 4,481 yards and 25 touchdowns. He had a completion percentage of 57.5, never dropping below 57% for a season. On top of that, his size--6-feet 5-inches and 215 pounds--was in his favor. He certainly figured to be drafted by somebody.
"I was told that I'd be a middle-round choice," Salisbury said. "At one time in my college career I thought I'd go higher, but I had sort of a roller-coaster ride, with the injuries and all, so it didn't turn out the way I would have liked it to.
"But the scouts kept telling me they liked my potential. Of course, other people told me, 'Don't believe anything they tell you.' They were right."
Jack Faulkner, administrator of football operations for the Rams, says the fact that Salisbury was passed up wasn't necessarily a reflection on his ability.
"I've seen that sort of thing happen a lot in my 30 years in this business," he said. "Sometimes when a quarterback isn't taken early, a lot of teams decide to let him go and contact him later as a free agent.
"Salisbury didn't figure to go until the middle rounds. By the seventh, eighth or ninth rounds, people probably figured they might as well take a defensive lineman or defensive back and pick up a quarterback when the draft was over.
"Salisbury has a lot going for him. He came from an excellent program, he has smarts, he's big, and he has a fine arm. He tried out with the Rams, and we liked him.
"The fact that he's still around tells you that he can play. The same thing happened with Mike Tomczak of Ohio State, and he made it with the Bears.
"On the other hand, a lot of guys who were drafted in the early rounds are now history."
Salisbury still professes to be puzzled by the process.
"I went to an NFL combine camp in New Orleans, and you wouldn't believe some of the guys who got drafted ahead of me," he said. "We have a wide receiver, Billy Brooks, who wasn't drafted until the fourth round. He was an absolute steal.
"It doesn't take a brain surgeon to see who's good and who isn't."
And there is the case of Steve Largent, one of Salisbury's former Seattle teammates. Largent wasn't drafted until the fourth round by the Houston Oilers, who were about to cut him when they managed to get an eighth-round choice from the Seahawks. Now Largent is about to become the leading receiver in NFL history.
"In my mind, Steve is the greatest player I've ever seen or been around," Salisbury said. "And he's twice the person that he is a player. People say he has no speed, yet he catches deep passes against the fastest cornerbacks.
"Steve and Kenny Easley always said things to me that built me up. Curt Warner, too. And I always turned to Steve for advice. I still do, in fact, by phone. He felt that there was no question I could play in the NFL, and he wasn't just saying it to say it. It's because of him that my confidence never slackened."
How did Salisbury happen to land with the Seahawks?
"It wasn't because anyone was waiting at my front door," he said. "After I failed to get drafted, I still didn't get any phone calls. My agent called several teams, and he talked to Houston heavily. But we decided Seattle was the best for me, and Indy is good for me now."
Salisbury earned a spot with the Seahawks last season with outstanding exhibition games. He completed 35 of 64 passes for 482 yards and 5 touchdowns with only one interception. But he never appeared in a regular-season game and spent the last seven games on injured reserve with tendinitis in his right shoulder. Dave Krieg started 14 games and Gale Gilbert the two others.
By the time training camp opened in July, things had gotten worse. The Seahawks had acquired Jeff Kemp from the San Francisco 49ers to back up Krieg, and Salisbury was released before the season began.