Mike Holmgren went on the offensive during Seattle's banner draft
When Mike Holmgren left the Packers to run the Seahawks in
January 1999, the last thing he expected to be facing two years
into his tenure was a 15-17 record and a crucial NFL draft. Well,
almost the last thing.
More startling was the lump that his wife, Kathy, found in one of
her breasts recently. A lumpectomy was performed last Friday, the
day before the draft, and after meetings with his staff ended
that afternoon, Mike didn't stick around to chat up potential
trades involving Seattle's two first-round picks, the seventh and
17th selections. He went to the hospital to be with Kathy and
then took her home on Friday night.
"Kathy is an oncology nurse, so she is very pragmatic about
this," said Mike, who along with his wife wouldn't find out test
results until this week. "She is so courageous. She has said to
me, 'Come on, you've got the draft!' This puts the draft in
Holmgren may have been worried about Kathy, but no one in
Seattle's draft room could tell last Saturday morning. "Listen
up," Holmgren said a few minutes before it was time to make his
first choice, rising from his chair and addressing the 40-odd
coaches and front-office types. "When we get to our spot, we're
expecting a call. So keep it down."
He was ready to deal, just as he had been this off-season when he
dived into the free-agent market to bolster a defense that was
weak up the middle, adding tackles Chad Eaton (late of the
Patriots) and John Randle (Vikings), middle linebacker Levon
Kirkland (Steelers) and strong safety Marcus Robertson (Titans).
He also had traded for the promising but unproven quarterback he
had mentored in Green Bay, Matt Hasselbeck. In the draft he hoped
to add three impact players: a game-breaking wide receiver, a
run-stopping defensive lineman and a clinging cornerback.
Earlier in the week he could have traded up to the No. 2 spot
(Arizona's) or the No. 3 (Cleveland's). Figuring, however, that
at least one of the quartet the Seattle staff wanted
most--defensive tackles Gerard Warren and Richard Seymour,
wideouts Koren Robinson and David Terrell--would be available at
No. 7, he turned down both offers. Then on Saturday, with the
Seahawks on the clock, the 49ers called, looking to move up two
spots to get Cal defensive end Andre Carter. A no-brainer,
Holmgren thought. Warren and Seymour had been chosen, but
Robinson and Terrell were still on the board, so Holmgren knew
one of the receivers would be around at No. 9.
Holmgren made the deal, the Bears took Terrell with the eighth
pick, and Robinson, the immature game-breaker from North Carolina
State, fell into Seattle's lap. The 6'1", 211-pounder was
suspended twice for academic-related problems by Wolfpack coach
Chuck Amato, so at a predraft meeting Holmgren looked the wideout
in the eye and said, "I'm 10 times tougher than Coach Amato will
ever think of being. I'll be on you every day. Can I depend on
you?" Robinson replied, "Don't worry about me, Coach. Football's
important to me."
It didn't appear the Seahawks would be as lucky with their
other first-round pick. Two other defensive linemen they liked,
Damione Lewis and Marcus Stroud, were plucked at Nos. 12 and 13,
respectively. On the clock again, Seattle was considering Texas
tackle Casey Hampton, but the highest-rated guard, Michigan's
Steve Hutchinson, was available too. "Hutchinson is a guy we
could plug in at left guard and start for 10 years," Seahawks
offensive coordinator Gill Haskell whispered. Then the phone rang
again. It was Eagles coach Andy Reid, who had the 25th pick and
was offering Holmgren the first choice in the third round if he
would agree to swap first-round positions.
To Holmgren's right, billionaire team owner Paul Allen, who
associates say loves the draft almost more than the games, was
reciting Hutchinson's honors--two-time All-America, four-time
All-Big Ten, Lombardi Award finalist. "And he's nasty!" Allen
said, making Holmgren laugh.
With the 15-minute clock ticking down, Holmgren sat quietly for a
good 30 seconds, rolling the temple pieces of his reading glasses
between his fingers. "These are the decisions you need to sleep
on," Holmgren said later, "but on draft day you have about 15
seconds to make them." In the end he figured Hutchinson and
Hampton would be gone by the 25th pick. He also knew Hutchinson
was a significantly better player at his position than Hampton
was at his. "Get Hutchinson on the phone," Holmgren said before
stepping into an adjacent room to congratulate the guard on
becoming a Seahawk. (Hampton went 19th, to Pittsburgh.)
In the second round Seattle took cocky cover cornerback Ken Lucas
of Mississippi, who will be given a chance to win the starting
job opposite Shawn Springs. Auburn fullback Heath Evans, selected
in the third round with the pick Seattle got in the trade with
the 49ers, could start next fall too. "I feel good about the day
and about our team," Holmgren said when the first day of the
draft was over. "We're going to build a good team."
At least one fan was pleased. After the Hutchinson choice was
announced, Holmgren's private line rang. "Great pick!" Kathy
Holmgren told her husband. "He's my favorite! Good job!"
Rams Splurge on Defenders
A Makeover In St. Louis
This is living right: Just after selecting Florida State
linebacker Tommy Polley with the 11th pick in the second round,
the St. Louis brain trust put together a list of the players it
most wanted with its third-round choice, which was still 41
selections away. Seven names were jotted down. By the time the
Rams' turn came again, the last six names on the list were gone,
but the top one--Florida State linebacker Brian Allen--was still
there. "You know," St. Louis coach Mike Martz said later, "the
draft never goes perfectly for any team. But it did for us
His draft had to go well to improve a defense that allowed
a league-high 29.4 points per game last year, offsetting the
efforts of one of the best offenses in NFL history. After
acquiring two starters through free agency--outside linebacker
Mark Fields (Saints) and free safety Kim Herring (Ravens)--St.
Louis drafted four players who should immediately upgrade the
defense. Tackles Damione Lewis of Miami and Ryan Pickett of Ohio
State, plus strong safety Adam Archuleta of Arizona State, will
get shots at starting, as will Polley. (Allen will most likely
back up Fields.) What's more, St. Louis picked up a very good
cover cornerback, Aeneas Williams, in a Saturday trade with
Arizona for second- and fourth-round selections.
Saints' Baffling Pick
Is Deuce Better Than One?
Yes, running back Deuce McAllister was the fifth-rated player on
the New Orleans draft board. And yes, the Saints needed a sturdy
backup to Ricky Williams, who missed 10 games because of
injuries in his first two seasons. Still, by using the 23rd pick
on McAllister, even though his stock had dropped after an
injury-plagued senior season, New Orleans risked upsetting
Williams, a sensitive loner who already distrusts the front
office. Also, this club had bigger first-round priorities--in
the secondary and at receiver--than a backup for a 23-year-old
franchise rusher who averaged 100 yards per game last season.
"How in the world does this pick backfire?" coach Jim Haslett
asked indignantly. "McAllister was the highest-rated guy left on
the board, by far. This is not sending a message to Ricky
Williams. This is getting an outstanding running back. We need
one. Ricky's played 16 games [actually 22] in two years. No one
is saying the Jets slapped Curtis Martin in the face by taking
LaMont Jordan [in the second round]."
Piracy in Tampa Bay
Bucs Get Biggest Bargain
Most draft projections had left tackles Leonard Davis of Texas
and Kenyatta Walker of Florida going in the top five. The
370-pound Davis, who will probably play right tackle in the pros
because he's not quick enough to handle speed rushers, who
usually storm the left side, went No. 2, to the Cardinals.
Walker, at 322 pounds, is a prototypical left tackle, but he kept
slipping because the position wasn't a high priority for most
teams drafting high.
That sent Tampa Bay, which owned the 21st pick but entered the
day targeting Walker, scrambling. Trying to move up, general
manager Rich McKay and his staff began calling every team,
starting with the 49ers at No. 9. The Bucs found their match at
No. 14, giving Buffalo their first- and second-round picks. "We
were so focused on this guy," said McKay, "that as each pick came
up, we literally were holding our breath until we heard a name
other than Kenyatta's."
What a bargain, getting a potential franchise left tackle midway
in the first round. "It's nice," said McKay, "to put such a
crucial position to bed for a while."
Dallas, Oakland Gamble Early
The Cowboys and the Raiders rolled the dice in the second round,
taking players they hope will be their quarterbacks of the
future. Dallas raised eyebrows with the selection of erratic but
mobile Georgia signal-caller Quincy Carter, at times an
electrifying performer. Oakland reached for Marques Tuiasosopo,
a 55% passer at Washington. "The Raiders will love having him in
their huddle," Huskies coach Rick Neuheisel says of Tuiasosopo's
It was a rough first day for small-college players. The only
non-Division I choice on Saturday was Western Illinois
cornerback William Peterson, and he didn't go until the 78th
pick, to the Giants....
The second day of the draft featured a couple of trifectas. The
fourth round kicked off with the selection of three players from
South Florida: guard Kenyatta Jones (to the Patriots), defensive
back Anthony Henry (to the Browns) and kicker Bill Gramatica
(brother of Bucs kicker Martin, to the Cardinals). In the
seventh round a trio of Ivy Leaguers went consecutively:
Princeton tackle Dennis Norman (Seahawks), Yale defensive back
Than Merrill (Bucs) and Yale tight end Eric Johnson (49ers)....
When the Giants moved up eight spots to take Syracuse defensive
back Will Allen with the 22nd selection, it marked the first
time in the 66-year history of the draft that New York had
traded up in the first round.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER The Seahawks like the big-play potential of Robinson, who had 13 touchdown catches last year.
COLOR PHOTO: KEVIN BAIN/AP Durability could be a concern for the Saints-bound McAllister.