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Sound and Vision

ESPN Draft Day: Scenes From a Mel

April 21, 2001|MIKE PENNER

"Marc was from a town in Pennsylvania where his parents had a lounge called 'Spindler's Lounge,' and they were having a big party. We sent Jimmy Roberts, who's now at NBC, to go there and be with the bubble guy. Well, in those days, we only covered Day 1 of the draft. About a seven-hour show, you might get through 2 1/2 or three rounds.

"So, first round, no Marc Spindler. Second round, no Marc Spindler. We go back out there, put him on TV and guys are calling him and hanging up on him. He'd pick up the phone and say, 'Hello? Oh, crank call.' And on our end, Mel's going, 'I'm telling you, this guy's gonna be a Pro Bowl player, he's gonna do this . . .'

"So we go off the air--he still hadn't been selected.

"The second we're off the air, he was selected."

Spindler went to the Detroit Lions in the third round with the 62nd pick of the draft--on a day ESPN televised only the first 61.

"That forever killed the bubble player," Gaudelli said. "No one ever wanted to be the bubble player because of the embarrassment Marc Spindler suffered."

Spindler, by the way, had a long NFL career but never made the Pro Bowl.


Kiper made his ESPN draft-day debut in 1984, but his breakthrough came on the 14th selection of the 1989 draft, which the New York Jets used to pick Virginia linebacker Jeff Lageman.

"That put Mel on the map," Gaudelli says.

"The first Mel Kiper sighting," Berman agrees.

As Gaudelli tells it, "When the Jets took Jeff Lageman, Mel's comment was, 'Look, I have no problem with Jeff Lageman as a football player. I think he's an excellent football player and I think he's got a good future in the NFL. But for the Jets to select Jeff Lageman with the 14th pick absolutely demonstrates to me that the Jets have no idea what they're doing.'

"The Jet fans freaked, because they didn't want Jeff Lageman. And they were sitting in the stands, right on top of us, and the place went crazy! That's when Mel really became, like, Mel."

Kiper: "I didn't have a problem with Lageman. I thought it was too high. Of course, remember, he was drafted as a middle linebacker, moved to outside linebacker, was a bust and then really caught on at defensive end--which was not the position they drafted him at.

"I said they should have traded down, I thought they should have gone down to, maybe, 18 to 23 and they'd still be able to select Lageman because I was pretty sure the teams in between were not going to take him. They would have picked up extra choices. Remember, this was not a good football team. They could have used some extra twos, threes, fours and fives.

"They didn't make that move down, so I was critical of the Jets. [Jet executive Mike Hickey] made the comment, 'Basically, who is this guy who works out of his basement in Baltimore?' It was major controversy when it was brought back to my attention. The Hickey thing is probably something a lot of people will never forget."

But for Kiper, it was merely the warmup act for the big show five years down the line.


In retrospect, it really wasn't much of a choice: Trent Dilfer or Trev Alberts.

Kiper thought Indianapolis Colt general manager Bill Tobin should have used the fifth pick of the 1994 draft on Dilfer, Tobin picked Alberts instead, and with that, the fuse to the powder keg was lit.

After Kiper criticized the selection of Alberts, a linebacker from Nebraska, Tobin responded, on camera, with Kiper listening in on the ESPN set, "Who the hell is Mel Kiper? My mailman knows more about the draft than he does."

If there's one ESPN draft moment for the time capsule, this is the one. Gaudelli calls the Kiper-Tobin exchange "great TV." "I got to know Bill Tobin pretty well and I'm sure Bill was speaking for a lot of people in the league who were tired of Mel's criticisms.

"When Tobin said what he said, Mel, to his credit, didn't back down. He stood his ground and he stood it professionally. But everybody on the set was laughing. Joe [Theismann] and Chris, they were laughing. They were all pretty much laughing in the truck. That was one of the really fun moments."

Seven Aprils later, Kiper doesn't look back on the incident as fondly.

"I thought it was a cheap shot," he says. "I don't think there was any reason for him to do that. . . . Basically, all I said was that the Colts should have gone for a quarterback and they should not have taken Alberts at that point over Dilfer and that was it. I never made any personal attack, I never mentioned Bill Tobin's name or anybody in the personnel department. I just questioned the pick and criticized the selection.

"I said it on draft day. I said, 'I have a lot of confidence in what I do and feel like you work hard all year and you basically provide an opinion. If you're right or wrong, it's just an opinion. [Tobin] took an exception--he has a right to do that. But, also, some of the things he said, I think, kind of boomeranged on him.

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