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Beathard Might Look Like a Genius : Chargers: He uses advice from Walsh to grab unheralded cornerback Darrien Gordon of Stanford in first round.

April 26, 1993|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — On a day when most NFL general managers were flipping through scouting reports, Bobby Beathard of the San Diego Chargers was busy, as usual, turning over rocks.

This time he found Stanford cornerback Darrien Gordon, making him the Chargers' first-round pick and eliciting a usual draft-day question.

What does this supposed guru think he's doing now?

Not that Beathard's 22nd pick overall was the most unlikely of the 29 first-round selections, but:

--Gordon was not an All-American. He did not make the Pacific 10 all-conference first team.

He was not even the most publicized defensive back on his team, hidden as he was behind John Lynch, who did make the all-conference first team.

Tampa Bay took Lynch during the third round, with the 82nd pick.

"I know I wasn't highly regarded by the media," Gordon said. "But I wasn't playing for them."

--Carlton Gray of UCLA, who had always been considered a better prospect than Gordon, was not ignored by the postseason all-star games. But on Sunday, he was not selected until the second round by Seattle.

--Gordon was one of the few physically sound senior football players in recent history who was not invited to a postseason all-star game.

No Senior Bowl, or Blue-Gray Bowl, or Aloha Bowl, or Japan Bowl.

In the biggest insult of all, he was not even allowed to play on his home field in Palo Alto in the East-West Shrine game.

"I felt I was unjustly treated," Gordon said. "But I understand the process. The players for a lot of these games are selected before the season, and before the season, I wasn't considered a prospect."

--Gordon's family and friends in Shawnee, Okla., were so surprised and excited by his first-round selection, they erupted in screams and cheers that could be heard down the street.

"Didn't bother the neighbors, because all of the neighbors were here," said James Gordon, Darrien's father and the host of a 30-person party.

The Chargers, defending AFC West champions, also took a moment to smile because they believe they might have replaced Tony Blaylock, their free-agent right cornerback who signed with the Chicago Bears.

They also believe that Beathard might have pulled a fast one on the league . . . again.

"Darrien has the physical tools and the intangibles to be an impact player," Beathard said. "He also comes from a very, very good program."

In other words, he comes highly recommended by Bill Walsh, the Stanford coach and NFL Hall of Famer who is still a large influence in the league.

"I know Bill said 'Hey, we got a guy you got to take a look at,"' said Tom Holmoe, Stanford defensive back coach. "And when he says that, people look."

Even Walsh wasn't taking a close look until the middle of this season when Gordon, a 5-foot-11 converted wide receiver, began to play to the potential that can be illustrated in his sprinter's speed.

"The first game or two, he was just really average," Holmoe said. "But then Coach Walsh took him aside a number of times, trying to get him to focus on his game."

Gordon finished the season in a fury by shutting down four first-round picks in helping Stanford win its last four games.

Curtis Conway of USC, Drew Bledsoe of Washington State, Sean Dawkins of California and O.J. McDuffie of Penn State were all thwarted by Gordon. He was voted most valuable player of the Blockbuster Bowl by stopping McDuffie while breaking up six passes.

"I struggled a lot in my junior year, I had to get a feel for the position," Gordon said. "But by the end of this year, everything was OK."

Scouts realized he was better than that when he was the second-fastest cornerback at the Indianapolis scouting combine in February, trailing only Tom Carter of Notre Dame. Carter was drafted during the first round by the Washington Redskins, 17th overall.

"At the start of the season, we didn't look at him as a hot prospect," Beathard said. "But his stock rose quickly."

Which brings the story to Sunday and an organization whose 1992 team featured six starters that were Beathard draft acquisitions.

Three of the best players on the defense, which ranked second in the AFC, were top picks.

Beathard's top choice last season, lineman Chris Mims, was second on the team with 10 sacks.

His top choice in 1991 was starting safety Stanley Richard, and his top pick in 1990 was linebacker Junior Seau, who was the only unanimous Pro Bowl selection in the AFC this season.

Among other first-round selections by Beathard, who helped build the Washington Redskins' Super Bowl champions, were tackle Mark May and wide receiver Art Monk.

"I've never been around a draft that people get excited about," Beathard said with a smile. "Except for the people drafting."

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