February 08, 2024

The First #1 Pick in the First NFL Draft

This Day In Collectibles
This Day In Collectibles
The First #1 Pick in the First NFL Draft

On this day in 1936, the NFL landscape witnessed a historic moment when Jay Berwanger emerged as the inaugural player selected in the NFL draft.

Inception and Early Format

Bert Bell, co-owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and future NFL commissioner, conceived the idea of a draft to address competitive balance in professional football. The proposal aimed to provide weaker teams with the opportunity to acquire talented players, laying the foundation for a system that would shape the future of player allocation.

The inaugural NFL draft unfolded on February 8, 1936, at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia, marked by informality compared to contemporary drafts. Teams participated via conference calls with the league office, without the grand ceremonies seen today. The initial draft featured nine rounds, with each of the nine existing NFL teams making selections based on the previous season's standings.

Selection Process and First Pick

The draft's structure involved determining the order based on the previous season's standings, granting the team that finished last the coveted first overall pick. Teams had the flexibility to choose players from colleges, semi-pro teams, or other leagues, establishing a mechanism for talent infusion into the professional football arena.

In the debut NFL draft, the Philadelphia Eagles held the prestigious first overall pick and chose halfback Jay Berwanger from the University of Chicago. However, Berwanger opted not to pursue a professional football career, marking a unique twist in the inaugural draft's narrative.

Beyond Jay Berwanger, the first NFL draft introduced players who would go on to have impactful careers in the league. The Chicago Bears, for instance, selected Hall of Fame end Joe Stydahar with the sixth overall pick, highlighting the emergence of talent that would shape the competitive landscape of professional football. The inaugural draft set the stage for a tradition that continues to be a cornerstone of the NFL.

A Priceless Item from a 6th Round Draft Pick

A recent auction features the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL Draft—Tom Brady—and the football from his first NFL touchdown pass in a preseason game. Learn more about the early memorabilia from a future NFL Hall of Famer at WTSP.

Image Credit: NBC Sports Philadelphia

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