What we have here is believed to be the earliest NFL Draft coverage on the internet. 1981 was the second year ESPN carried the draft while most Americans were just becoming aware of this cable thing you could purchase.
As you can see from the footage, the 1981 draft was a mess. Keeping track of trades was a disaster.
How did the draft end up on television? Jim Steeg, who developed the draft into a monster, explained the process for the National Football Post.
In the fall of 1979, ESPN was just beginning, and Chet Simmons, the President and COO, was a friend of Commissioner Rozelle; their friendship dated back to Simmons’ days at the helm of NBC Sports. One of their brainstorms was to put the Draft on television – and to broadcast it on ESPN. Commissioner Rozelle took the idea to the NFL ownership group in October of 1979. It was resoundingly rejected as a television show concept. As the meeting ended, Pete turned to me and said, “Call Chet, and tell him we’re going to cover the Draft as a news event!” With that, the relationship with ESPN and the NFL began.
The 1980 Draft began on a Tuesday morning at 10 AM Eastern, and it broke after three rounds to resume on Wednesday morning. ESPN’s anchor desk was tucked away in a ballroom corner with the network’s George Grande and Sports Illustrated’s well-respected NFL writer Paul (Dr. Z) Zimmerman as the hosts.
Thank goodness today we have Twitter, the internet and 80 channels that dissect the draft. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger, just as the old timers wanted it to all those years ago.