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Steelers botched 1964 draft even after it was over

| Saturday, May 3, 2014, 9:12 p.m.

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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