Today, we catch up with running back Mercury Morris, running back, selected in the third round (63rd overall) of the 1969 NFL Draft out of West Texas A&M, and safety Shawn Wooden, selected in the sixth round (189th overall) of the 1996 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame.
What stands out to you the most from your Draft Day experience?
Mercury Morris: “The fact that I didn’t get the call until Day 2. That was the bad news because I thought I was going to go in the first or second round. I went in the third round because the Dolphins were drafting linemen. They drafted Bob Heinz ahead of me and I was a third-round draft pick. I finished ninth in the balloting for the Heisman that year, Juice (O.J. Simpson) finished first, but at that time running backs were not 5-10, 185 pounds, they were 6-2, 215 like Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung, which is the same as (Larry) Csonka and (Jim) Kiick, so it was an uphill battle from the beginning. But knowing that I got drafted by the Dolphins, I watched Super Bowl III and I was there when Shula lost to the Jets in that game and Earl (Morrall) was there so it was kind of like the karma was coming around. Little did I know that would be my office for the next six years playing for the Dolphins.”
Shawn Wooden: “Just the whole weekend, the anticipation and everybody else, all of your family members and your friends all calling you. You get kind of frustrated when you’re a later round pick. You might have been an earlier round pick but you get pushed to those later rounds and you’ve got friends and family calling you and you tell them, ‘Just leave me alone. Don’t call until after the draft.’ So I remember getting a call from Jimmy (Johnson) and it was like the 20th call that day that I received. I was pretty frustrated and I had just gotten off the other line and he was like, ‘Is this Shawn?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘You know against my better judgment I think I’m going to take a Notre Dame with our next pick.’ So you have kind of mixed emotions because you’re happy that you’re getting picked but at the end of the day I was getting applications because I didn’t think I was going to make the team. I thought I would just be training camp fodder.”
Where were you on Draft Day?
Morris: “I was in Canyon, Texas, where I went to school at West Texas. I was just running around in my Corvette I had bought ahead of time.”
Wooden: “I was at my mom’s house. I was upstairs and everybody else was downstairs. I was just lying down and I stopped watching the draft. Like I said I was a sixth-round pick and I wasn’t expecting to go in the first round, but when you start hearing about guys you figured you were rated higher than going in the third or fourth round you start getting kind of anxious.”
What did you do in preparation to help your draft position?
Morris: “We didn’t have any of the stuff they do now. Are you kidding me? You were drafted out of college, literally. It wasn’t like somebody was waiting for you to see what your skills were. They already had a look at what your skills were when you got drafted. Joe Robbie drafted me. He liked the way that I ran and he liked my name. Those were the reasons why I’m here.”
Wooden: “We worked out at Notre Dame. I did go down to New Orleans for a couple of weeks and I worked with someone down there, but these guys are doing it for months now. It’s kind of interesting. I used to write software because I was a computer science major so I used to write software for several teams. Actually, the Miami Dolphins were one of my teams I had and we used to do game analysis and draft, or pro personnel analysis was what they called it. So I would be able to see what they were writing about guys from years before in order to make sure the software worked. They didn’t let me do it my last year. I guess I would have given myself all good grades.”
Was there something about your interviews with prospective coaches before the draft that stood out?
Morris: “No, none of that stuff. It was a business. They saw us on film and that was it. No interviews.”
Wooden: “Actually, I was not invited to the Combine because people said I would never play football in the league because I had back surgery when I was sophomore. So that was another thing I had to overcome. I know several teams that I went to go see before the draft wrote letters saying that I would not be able to play football in the National Football League. I lasted nine years so I guess they were wrong. The interviews were pretty straightforward. There was nothing in my background that they were going to bring up. I was a Notre Dame guy so they protect us up there. You don’t hear much about it. I was raised by a single mom so they asked me about my father and did I have any psychological issues or any ill regard to him or any ill regard like if I had a chip on my shoulder. And I told them the only chip I ever have on my shoulder is when somebody tells me I can’t do something. That’s a big enough chip.”
How did you celebrate being drafted?
Morris: “It was different then because you were just glad to be on a team and it wasn’t so much a celebration but that part of it is over now and now you’re going to the next level. These guys have a gigantic celebration about it but us, it was just like, ‘Hey, now you’re on the team. Get to work.’ They brought us down here I think somewhere in February of that year of 1969 and Heinz and myself and the first five draft choices, we came down here and they introduced us to George Wilson and the whole nine yards.”
Wooden: “I was just relieved and my family was very happy, but Jimmy’s parting words were, ‘Just get ready. Make sure you’re ready when you come down.’ That next week we were down there for the rookie minicamp so it wasn’t like I had much time to party. I knew I had to get ready and I knew Jimmy’s reputation.”
What advice would you give to this year’s class of draft choices?
Moore: “The first thing is as soon as you can get that playbook, bury your nose in it. This is what you’ve worked for your whole life, and the only way you can really compete for a job is you’ve got to know what to do. Once you know what to do it allows you to turn loose your athletic ability. If you don’t you’re thinking and if you’re thinking the play’s over.”
Wooden: “Just enjoy it and have fun. This happens once in your life, so have fun and enjoy it. But know that as soon as you’re picked its work. It’s no longer a game. It’s a business and they have to start treating themselves like they are CEOs in the business. Their bodies are a business and they have to make sure that business is a viable business able to keep going. Partying? You work hard so you should party. I’m a true believer that if you work hard you play hard, but remember, you’ve got to work more than you play.”