May 5, 2014

Different time, different hype: Looking back at George Rogers being No. 1 pick

As Jadeveon Clowney draws closer to possibly seeing his name called first in the NFL draft, South Carolina’s original No. 1 pick marvels at the hoopla.

As Jadeveon Clowney draws closer to possibly seeing his name called first in the NFL draft, South Carolina’s original No. 1 pick marvels at the hoopla.

“They told me I was going to be the No. 1 pick a couple of days before,” George Rogers said on Monday. “I went up there the day before the draft. It wasn’t really a big deal, unless you were a New Orleans fan or a person in that area.”

Watching a video of the 1981 NFL draft is stunning in its simplicity. Held in the Grand Ballroom of the New York Sheraton, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle tells the Saints they are on the clock, and a 15-minute timer starts ticking.

No last-second breathless anticipation. No multitude of TV cameras recording every fidget of a handful of players in the green room. No analysts getting set to praise or decry the pick when it’s announced.

In fact, no full use of the 15 minutes by the Saints to wring all anxiety in the room. Rozelle has the envelope in his hand and is announcing the pick with 14 minutes on the clock. The New York Giants made their pick even quicker, selecting Lawrence Taylor nearly before Rozelle finished saying the “a” in “South Carolina” after Rogers’ name.

Different time, different hype. Rogers knew he was going to be the top pick, told nobody but his mother, went to New York, gave a quick speech and left. Case closed.

“I was up there by myself,” Rogers said. “When I got back home, my brother threw me a little party saying, ‘Please don’t sell me now.’ ”

Clowney has spent every second since the Gamecocks finished the Capital One Bowl under the microscope. Nearly everyone and their cousin has an opinion on his play and whether or not he deserves to be No. 1.

With the NFL draft pushed back this year to two weeks later than its usual slot, it has served to heap more kerosene onto the bonfire. Clowney has a goal of being No. 1 – “It’s about my pride,” Clowney told ESPN at his Pro Day – and while it seems he will obtain it, it won’t be a certainty until Thursday evening.

Rogers went through something similar, but nothing that covered his every move from finishing his senior season at USC and then the announcement. He met with teams, worked out and heard some scuttlebutt, but mostly was assured that he was going to be the top pick.

“It was between me and LT, I can remember that, and a big question was, ‘Who’s second and third?’ ” Rogers said. “Bum Phillips, the Saints’ coach, thought I was a pretty good deal. He needed a running back, and thought I could be like a younger Earl Campbell.”

Of course, there’s the difference in money. Rogers estimated his rookie contract was between $400,000-500,000 per season on a four-year tenure. He received a signing bonus of around $145,000 and immediately used it to help buy his mother a house in Atlanta. There was also money from endorsements, adidas among them.

Last year’s No. 1 pick, Kansas City’s Eric Fisher, signed for a reported $22 million over five years, including a signing bonus of $14 million, with $10 million of that in a lump sum he received less than a week after he signed. This year’s No. 1 pick is expected to receive something similar. Clowney also reportedly is in talks with Puma for an endorsement deal.

But, this is 2014, and that was 1981. Of course things would change for the better for NFL players since then. Rogers was part of that change, and is proud that all these years later, another Gamecock could join him as an NFL No. 1 draft pick.

“He can always be the No. 1 pick, but he can’t be the first No. 1 pick that left South Carolina,” Rogers quipped. “That’s how I look at it. I’m sure he’s going to do his best to fulfill his dreams. I’m very happy for him and happy for the university.”

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