With the glitzy and elaborate spectacle of the NFL Draft arriving on TV sets on Thursday night, it's worth remembering the simple and decidedly unsophisticated early days football's rookie selection pageant.
These days, the draft brings cameras galore, a red carpet, fashionable suits, personalized jerseys, and wall-to-wall event coverage, all in front of a rabid and excited crowd at Radio City Music Hall in New York. But in the early years, after the draft's invention in 1936, it was just a gathering of coaches and owners sitting around and picking which college players they had heard about (but probably hadn't seen) and thought could help them out. Few teams did much research on to-be drafted players until the old L.A. Rams hired the first-ever nationwide scout in 1946.
The draft in these early days were "conducted in smoke-filled rooms away from the helter-skelter of the mob," as a 1975 article from The Bakersfield Californian explained. Here's the Associated Press's oldest image from any football draft. The 1948 photo features an assortment of coaches from the All-American Football League, a short-lived league competitor to the NFL.
By 1958, though, scouts were compiling lists of players that coaches and general managers could peruse during selection time. Here are Packers staff and coaches looking over their draft list on Jan. 28, 1958.
The draft in these years was defined by middle-aged white men smoking in back-rooms. Below, Packers coach Ray McLean (standing) smokes next to chief scout Jack Vainisi.
As it was until recently, the draft consisted of two separate days of selections. (The draft was recently expanded to three days, so it could start in primetime.) But those two days came months apart rather than on the same weekend. In the 1958 NFL draft, for example, the first four rounds took place on December 2, 1957, and then rounds 5-30 took place January 28, 1958. Coaches had more time to do research on those hidden gems.