Every time the NFL draft approaches, I think back to that long weekend I spent in Madison 15 years ago, waiting to see my name come up on TV.
I had just finished my fifth year at Wisconsin with a 2000 Rose Bowl win against Stanford on New Year’s Day. I didn’t have a lot of time to celebrate before turning my focus to getting drafted in the NFL.
I started the process in mid-January by heading to both the Hula Bowl in Hawaii and the East-West Shrine game, then held in California. I met with scouts and practiced for a few weeks at each game. Then I was invited to what is known as the Combine in Indianapolis, a place where draft hopefuls are given a very thorough evaluation by the NFL’s key decision makers. They weigh you, measure you and see how much you can bench press.
It was an exciting time for me, a huge NFL fan. I had two goals: get in front of anyone who wanted to talk to me and collect as much gear as I could. It was an exhausting three days. After being prodded and pulled at, I felt good about how everything went, but had no clue where I might eventually land.
By March, the predictions started coming from draftniks and sports writers: I would be picked up, likely between the fourth and seventh rounds.
The start of draft weekend 2000 fell on Saturday, April 15. My brother and a few friends came over early Sunday morning to the Mifflin Street apartment I shared with some of my Badger teammates to watch the draft on TV. One of my friends brought over a spreadsheet mapping out when some of the other offensive linemen were expected to be drafted. Every time someone jumped ahead of me, my friend would throw the papers on the floor.
Through this whole process, I found the NFL coaches and personnel decision makers to be part salesmen and part poker players. The New England Patriots made me believe that they were going to use their fourth-round pick on me. They didn’t, drafting instead tackle Greg Randall. After that brief disappointment, the Detroit Lions called to say they intended to either draft me or a cornerback in the fifth round. They went with CB Todd Franz. My cell phone (yes, we had crude cell phones back in 2000) then went silent for the next two hours.
The fifth round passed, and then the sixth. After the 10th pick in the seventh round went by, my phone started ringing again. But now the calls were from teams that wanted me to consider signing as an undrafted free agent. My hopes were pretty low. I had family and friends hanging around, and we were just plain worn out. By now it was about 3 p.m. and we had been at it since 10 a.m.
Thirty minutes later the phone rang and it was the Seattle Seahawks — they had a pick in the seventh round that they were going to use on me. I was excited and relieved that my journey would end with a great opportunity to play in the NFL. But before Seattle selected, a 920 area code popped up on my phone — it was a representative from the Packers calling to say they were selecting me with their next pick, just a few choices before Seattle.
With the 18th pick in the seventh round — pick 224 — I was given a chance.
After that rollercoaster ride, I would report to work at Lambeau Field within four days to start my NFL career. If I had to do it all over, I would have gone out and played golf and never watched a minute of the draft on TV. I learned there are some things you can control and some you can’t, so you’d better just enjoy the ride. I wish all the 2015 draft hopefuls good luck and good fortune as they sit through their draft experience. I suggest doing it on a boat somewhere where you can’t watch ESPN. Just remember to keep that cell phone handy.
Mark Tauscher retired from the Packers in 2010. He is a co-owner of Isthmus.