WASHINGTON — As the current Washington Redskins’ front office prepares for the 2017 NFL Draft, its members should do so with the confidence that they won’t make the worst draft pick ever. That distinction belongs to the 1946 Washington Redskins…and 1947 Washington Redskins.
Both times they wasted a first round pick on Cal Rossi, the only NFL player ever drafted twice–both times in the first round–and who never played a down in the NFL. In order to understand how, it’s important to recognize how much football has changed.
Rossi was a star at UCLA between 1944 to 1947, finishing third on the Bruins’ all-time rushing list with 1,490 yards on 255 carries. In 1945, he finished second in the nation with 679 yards, averaging 7.15 yards per carry. He also played defensive back, tallying seven interceptions, and clubbed .365 for the UCLA baseball team. After his junior season, he so impressed the Redskins that they selected him with the ninth overall pick.
There was just one problem with that: Rossi was not eligible for the draft or the NFL. In those days, players had to complete four years of college–not three–and Rossi, while exceptional, could not have joined them even if he wanted to. They would have to wait another year and try again with the rest of the nine teams in the league.
That’s right: back in those days, the 10 NFL teams drafted 30 rounds in secrecy from the Commodore Hotel in New York City. Why the secrecy? The concern was that the upstarts at the All-American Football League would poach their players before teams could get them under contract.
While some NFL teams scoured regionally or even nationally for talent, then-Redskins owner George Preston Marshall was reportedly too cheap to pay for such services. According to Rich Tandler in “The Redskins Chronicle,” Marshall picked new players by scanning the sports page.
Marshall envisioned a backfield with Rossi and quarterback Sammy Baugh that would bring a dynasty to D.C. Instead, it doomed them for decades.
One year later, the Redskins doubled down on their blunder, selecting Rossi with the fourth overall pick after a disappointing season. They found out after the draft that Rossi had enlisted in the Navy and had no intention of playing professionally. In those days, professional football had little glamor, and Rossi chose to serve his country instead.
Rossi would return to the gridiron in 1949, but it was a world away from the Redskins. He coached the Visalia Union High School Pioneers, turning them around in one year to compete for the CIF Championship of the San Joaquin Valley. They won 13-0.
Meanwhile, the Redskins–who missed two first-round picks and were severely mismanaged–failed to make the playoffs between 1946 and 1971.
Fortunately, the NFL has turned into one of the biggest sports leagues in the world, and there is zero percent chance that any player would decline to sign and play. So really, not matter what happens on Thursday night, the Redskins should have no fear of having the worst draft ever.