Sid Hartman
See more of the story

The NFL draft is going to still take place April 23-25, a rare sports event being held as scheduled when so many leagues around the world have suspended normal operations because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

For Vikings fans of a certain age, it might seem impossible that the draft will still be televised and take place without a big audience cheering or booing each pick.

The size of the draft these days is impossible to undersell, and it’s a big reason why Meet Minneapolis events staff and the Vikings have been pitching so hard to bring the draft to the Twin Cities in the near future.

The Tennessean reported that the 2019 draft in Nashville set a record for spending by 600,000 visitors to the city over three days, bringing in $132.8 million.

The previous record was set in Dallas in 2018 with $74 million in direct spending.

Calculating those numbers are complicated but it factors in hotel data, tax collections and surveys to try and understand how much tourism-related money entered the local economy.

And while it’s hard to imagine that Las Vegas will be without a big influx of fans in three weeks, the NFL draft of years past didn’t encourage fans to attend and barely attracted any media coverage.

That’s why ESPN knows they can still put on an amazing show and drive up big advertising revenue for the event. Last year 47.5 million people watched the event in 115 countries. It would not surprise me to see that number tripled if the sports world is still locked down when the draft takes place.

1961 draft slog

For fans wondering what it was like to follow a draft without a big national audience, take a look at the 1961 NFL draft, which took place on December 27-28, 1960, at the Warwick Hotel in Philadelphia.

The Vikings were entering their inaugural season and had the first overall pick, which they used on Tulane running back Tommy Mason.

How different were the times? Mason was drafted on Tuesday and four days later played in the East-West Bowl, something that would never happen today because of the risk of injury.

The draft was so slow that the Minneapolis Star ran a story after the first round which noted the Baltimore Colts took 35 minutes on their first choice, selecting Ohio State halfback Tom Matte at No. 7 overall. With the No. 8 pick, the St. Louis Cardinals took 90 minutes to select Auburn tackle Ken Rice.

The next day, Commissioner Pete Rozelle instituted a 10-minute limit on selections and introduced the first-ever “two-minute warning” of the draft after it took 15 hours to select 126 players.

One of the Vikings’ bright spots that year was drafting Georgia quarterback Fran Tarkenton in the third round (the 29th overall pick). Tarkenton, who played for the Vikings from 1961-66 and again from 1972-78, was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.

1967 from a hospital

Maybe the most unbelievable story about the draft came in 1967, Bud Grant’s first as coach of the Vikings.

Grant had won four Grey Cups while coaching Winnipeg in the Canadian Football League. His 1966 season ended in November when the Blue Bombers lost in the division finals.

The NFL draft was held in March 14-15, 1967, in New York City. Grant told me two years ago that his predraft knowledge of available players was limited.

“I was not privy to a lot of what was going on in the draft before my first year,” Grant recalled. “When I came here, [General Manager] Jim Finks and [team scout and director of player personnel] Jerry Reichow and I talked about upcoming players in the draft. I knew very little about them because I was in Canada, but they knew a lot about them.

“Jim Finks had a medical condition. He was in the hospital. So we drafted from Jim Finks’ room in the hospital. Jerry Reichow, myself and Jim Finks drafted from his hospital room on the telephone. I knew some of the top players. We drafted Clint Jones, Gene Washington and Alan Page.”

Those were the Vikings’ three first-round picks. Jones and Washington, a running back and flanker both from Michigan State, were taken at No. 2 and No. 8. Page, the future Hall of Fame defensive tackle from Notre Dame, was picked at No. 15.

The NFL draft has changed many times over the years, and the 2020 draft might be as unique as any in league history.


• Former Gophers big man Reggie Lynch was playing basketball for Urania Milano in Italy before their season was shut down because of the outbreak of COVID-19. Lynch had played in 26 games and averaged 11.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 25.6 minutes per game. Urania was 13-13 when play was suspended.

• The Dallas Morning News published their five biggest concerns for TCU after spring sports were canceled by the NCAA. At No. 2 was this note: “Former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill was brought in during the offseason to act as a special assistant to the head coach. [Gary] Patterson and Kill go way back, and the TCU head coach hopes his old buddy can help revitalize a Horned Frog offense that was stagnant at times last year. But with spring practice canceled, if Kill and offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie are to find a balance together, they’ll have to do so in film study and fall practice. They’ll have to hope that’s enough.”

• Former Wild forward Pascal Dupuis joined Laurentides of the LHEQ — Ligue de Hockey d’Excellence du Québec, or the Quebec Hockey League of Excellence — as a resource person last week. The 40-year-old Dupuis, who had 67 goals and 74 assists in 334 games with the Wild from 2001 to 2007, had been coaching since his playing career ended in 2015 because of blood clot-related health problems, but a news release said he wanted to take a step back while remaining available if necessary. The Conquerors have midget (under-18), bantam (under-15) and peewee (under-13) teams.

• Garrett Suter resigned as coach and general manager of the United States Hockey League’s Madison Capitols on Monday. Suter — who went 73-137-22 in four seasons and will reassume his previous role as president of the Capitols’ Tier 1 AAA program — is the brother of team owner Ryan Suter, the Wild’s star defenseman who helped revive the team in 2013 after the previous incarnation had folded in 1995. The Capitols play at Bob Suter’s Madison Ice Arena, named for the Suters’ father who was a defenseman on the United States’ 1980 “Miracle on Ice” gold medal-winning team and died from a heart attack in 2014 at age 57.

Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Sunday. •