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Steelers botched 1964 draft even after it was over

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ONES WHO GOT AWAY

Star players for other teams with draft ties to the Steelers:

Johnny Unitas: The former St. Justin High star was a ninth-round pick in 1955, but stubborn coach Walt Kiesling wouldn't use him even during training camp drills. Despite a passionate 11-page letter from 18-year-old Tim Rooney to dad Art Rooney Sr. explaining Unitas had the best arm in camp, the Steelers cut him. Became a 10-time Pro Bowl quarterback with the Colts and one of the greatest to play the position.

Len Dawson: A first-round pick in 1957, he never got off the Steelers' bench; Hall of Fame career didn't take off until he joined the AFL's Dallas Texans in 1962.

Dick Butkus: The Bears chose the Hall of Fame linebacker with the first-round pick — No. 3 overall — they acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh.

Frank Filchock: A second-round pick in 1938, he was sold to Washington after only six games and became a Pro Bowl back for the Redskins and Giants.

Earl Morrall: The Steelers traded their 1958 and 1959 first-round picks to the 49ers for Morrall and guard Mike Sandusky, then dealt Morrall to the Lions (for Bobby Layne) after only 14 games. Morrall played another 18 seasons, twice making All-Pro.

Jimmy Johnson: A Hall of Fame cornerback, the 49ers drafted him in 1961 after trading defensive back Dicky Moegle for the Steelers' first-round pick. Moegle played only one year in Pittsburgh.

Emerson Boozer: A Steelers' seventh-round pick in 1966, he signed with the AFL's Jets and became a two-time Pro Bowl running back.

Emmitt Smith: Hall of Fame running back drafted by the Cowboys with the first-round pick acquired from Pittsburgh, which drafted tight end Eric Green three picks later.

Dan Marino: The Steelers needed a quarterback, but inexplicably passed up the former Central Catholic and Pitt star in 1983, allowing the Dolphins to draft one of the NFL's all-time greats six picks later.

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Befitting a franchise that drafted poorly during most of its first four decades of existence, the Steelers found a way to botch a draft even after it was over a half-century ago.

Still reeling from the heroin overdose death of star Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb seven months before, the Steelers badly wanted to take dominating Texas defensive lineman Scott Appleton in the 1964 draft, which was held even before the 1963 season ended.

But the Dallas Cowboys grabbed Appleton with the No. 4 overall pick, so the Steelers settled at No. 10 for Pitt halfback-defensive back Paul Martha. (A much better player, future Hall of Fame receiver Paul Warfield, went one pick later to Cleveland as the Steelers failed to get any of the future 10 Hall of Famers who were taken in that draft.)

Still coveting Appleton, coach Buddy Parker orchestrated a much-criticized trade two weeks later that sent the Steelers' best player — wide receiver Buddy Dial — to the Cowboys for Appleton's negotiating rights. The Steelers assigned scout Will Walls to babysit Appleton over the next six weeks as the lineman decided whether to sign with the Steelers or the Houston Oilers of the rival AFL.

Walls contacted him day and night but, finally, Appleton chose the Oilers, in part because they offered nearly 40 head of cattle, two gas stations and part ownership of a Texas livestock feed business in addition to money.

In the end, no one came out a winner in one of the worst trades in Steelers history.

Dial, only 26, was coming off a '63 season in which he made 60 catches for 1,295 yards — huge numbers for a 14-game season. But he was injured after joining the Cowboys, developed a drug addiction and ended up making only 42 catches the next three seasons. He was out of the league at age 29.

The 260-pound Appleton was fast and dominating at the college level, but it quickly became evident he could be pushed around by much bigger and stronger pro offensive linemen. After becoming involved with alcohol and drugs, he was traded by the Oilers after three seasons, lasted only two years with the Chargers and was out of the league before he turned 27. He died at age 50 of heart problems.

Steelers owner Art Rooney Sr. was so unhappy with the so-called “Dial for Nothing” trade, he told Parker all future deals had to be cleared with son Dan Rooney. After going 5-9 in 1964, the Steelers replaced Parker with coach Mike Nixon.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

 

 

 
 


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