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This Might Be His Greatest Comeback Yet

NFL draft: Oregon's Harrington, famous for engineering dramatic rallies, is out-of-nowhere No. 3 choice by Lions.

April 21, 2002|SAM FARMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Folks back home nicknamed him Captain Comeback, and for good reason. Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington led the Ducks to 10 fourth-quarter, come-from-behind victories in his career.

His latest masterpiece shook up the NFL draft.

Detroit grabbed Harrington with the No. 3 pick Saturday, two spots after Houston drafted Fresno State quarterback David Carr. Coming into the draft, the Lions dropped heavy hints they would use their top pick on Texas cornerback Quentin Jammer, who wound up going fifth to San Diego.

"I was unbelievably surprised," Harrington said on a conference call. He passed on a chance to attend the draft in New York, instead choosing to watch it in Oregon with his family and friends. "I was told five minutes earlier that [the Lions] were going in another direction. I was just about to sit down with my mom and dad and watch the Lions pick another player. I got a phone call and I was shocked, caught off guard and thrilled."

The quick pick of Harrington, who might have slipped to Kansas City at No. 8 or Cincinnati at No. 10, was one of several notable developments in the first round of the two-day draft. Among the others:

* Dallas made a trade with Kansas City, allowing the Chiefs to sneak ahead of Minnesota and snatch North Carolina defensive tackle Ryan Sims, a player the Vikings wanted. The move was especially frustrating to Minnesota because Dallas appeared to cut the deal after the 15-minute clock had expired.

* Cincinnati used the 10th pick to select Arizona State tackle Levi Jones, a player projected to go much later in the first round. Just another befuddling move by one of the league's worst franchises.

* The only player from a Southern California school to go in the first round was UCLA linebacker Robert Thomas, drafted 31st by St. Louis. Three spots later, with the second pick of the second round, Carolina took Bruin running back DeShaun Foster.

* Five Miami Hurricanes were selected in the first round, tying a record set by USC in 1968. Also, the opening round included a record three tight ends.

* Hungry for defensive players, the Raiders made two trades--first with Washington, then with Atlanta--to move up and grab Miami cornerback Phillip Buchanon at No. 17.

Many scouts predicted Buchanon would be a top-10 pick, ranking him just behind Jammer. Raider owner Al Davis has always emphasized building a defense around shut-down cornerbacks, and 36-year-old right corner Eric Allen is nearing the end of his career. Buchanon, who also returns punts, earned All-America honors at cornerback last season.

"By no means are we anointing him a starter," Oakland Coach Bill Callahan told reporters. "He does give us more options, and with a cover corner like that, you can't pass it up."

The Raiders, who have drafted a defensive back in the first round three times in five years, used their other first-round pick on Northwestern linebacker Napoleon Harris. Harris is the third Napoleon in Raider history, following running backs McCallum and Kaufman.

Harris, the premier linebacker on the board, is known for his ability to knock people senseless. But the most aggressive guy in the draft Saturday might have been Chris Shropshire, Kansas City's 150-pound equipment manager. When the clock had run out on Dallas, and a Minnesota official was holding a card with Sims' name scribbled on it, Shropshire stood in front of the podium and would not get out of the way. Those few seconds were all the Cowboys and Chiefs needed to get the deal done.

"I looked at the TV and they were down to zero-zero, and [the trade] still hadn't been confirmed," Chief President Carl Peterson said. "It said Minnesota was standing behind them. But they didn't allow them to make their pick."

After a few moments of confusion, Sims was headed to Kansas City and the Vikings were left to make another pick. They grudgingly chose Miami tackle Bryant McKinnie, a player they like, but not as much as Sims.

It's unlikely the words of Minnesota Coach Mike Tice will be much consolation to McKinnie: "We called New York and we were in [with the Sims pick]. We'll let them sort that situation out in New York, but we were in with the pick. At 1:39 last night I woke up sweating and dreamed I was announcing Bryant McKinnie as our first pick."

The deal worked out flawlessly for Dallas, which still landed the player it wanted with the No. 8 selection, Oklahoma safety Roy Williams, and collected Kansas City's third-round pick (75th overall) and a sixth-round pick next year.

While the Cowboys were wheeling and dealing, their hated rivals were stifling a yawn. Midway through the first round--before his team had even made a pick--Washington Redskin owner Daniel Snyder jumped into his personal helicopter with Coach Steve Spurrier and defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. The trio made a quick trip from Redskin headquarters to Fedex Field to make an appearance at the team's draft party. About two hours later, the Redskins used the 32nd pick on Tulane quarterback Patrick Ramsey.

So the first round began and ended with the selection of a quarterback. But the most interesting story may be the quarterback taken in between: Harrington.

Officially, the Oregon standout will compete for the starting job with Mike McMahon, Detroit's fifth-round selection in 2001. But the Lions are already selling Harrington jerseys on their Web site.

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