Phil Caldwell

Sports Blogging With a Grin

1976 NFL Draft Taught High First Round Picks Don’t Guarantee Pro-Bowl Players

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As beer-guzzling, couch-dwelling husbands and sons across the country belch on the couch, donning exposed undies stained by pizza grease and other disgusting matter, the other side of the house was dominated by roomfuls of giddy multi-generation women, near-fainting and panting over the pomp and ceremony of a prince marrying a commoner.

Ah yes, American culture and the dregs of society, pitted against class and etiquette adored by people who are disgusted with those making a big deal about their team drafting an offensive lineman.

Not that any of this matters.  History shows us that these Disney-type weddings have about the same record of longevity as do NFL first round draft picks.  No more obvious is that, then the very first Seahawk draft pick of all time, one Steve Neihaus, taken with the second overall pick of the 1976 Draft.

You remember 1976, right?  There were plaid bell-bottoms, silk shirts, hairy chests, the birth of Peyton Manning,  and the birth of the Seattle Seahawks franchise, which drafted a stud defensive lineman out of the University of Notre Dame with their first-ever pick.

But barely. Rumors said the infant Seahawks were on the phone two seconds before the bell, trying to deal the pick to other teams for a gaggle of picks, but failed in their efforts.

Thus they reluctantly picked this mammoth, who stood 6’5” and weighed 270 pounds on a large frame. Huge by 1976 standards.


Nevertheless, the pick had Seahawk management in charge of player personnel smiling and proud, boasting that they were not nearly as inept as whoever designed those color-challenged gray pants mixed with Canuck blue jerseys and green.

Neihaus ended up being the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and held the Seahawk rookie record for sacks in a season. Nine and one half.

The one half being when he accidentally ran over Dallas Cowboy Guadalajara-bred kicker Efren Herrera, who was caught napping on a Doritos stack table inappropriately placed between Neihaus and an emergency toilet facility.

But I digress.

Steve Niehaus finished 12th in Heisman Trophy voting in 1975. Second in Outland Trophy voting, and had been a favorite of pro scouts since starting for Notre Dame as a freshman.

He was a two-time All-American, unanimous selection as a senior, with 95 tackles in 1975, 13 of them for minus 82 yards, and he broke up two passes and recovered one fumble.

Career totals at Notre Dame included 290 tackles, 25 for minus 128 yards, and played in the 1976 College All-Star game.

No wonder the Seahawks liked this guy. At the time, Seahawk head coach Jack Patera gushed “We feel Steve Neihaus will be as valuable to us as a quarterback. He can be an anchor for our defense, who will be here for 10 years.”


But he never made much of an impact, and played in just 36 games before being traded in 1979 for an eighth-round draft pick.

The culprit was a faulty right shoulder according to Danny O’Neil of the Seattle Times, who three years ago, reported via a telephone interview with then 53 year-old Neihaus that his shoulder started popping out of place randomly, which ultimately proved fatal to his playing career.

Often he played football with a leather strap harness thing, then had a 3-inch screw inserted surgically, and finally couldn’t take it anymore and retired shortly after being unloaded by the Seahawks to Minnesota.

The point being that high draft picks sometimes are not what they are cracked up to be on these draft days filled with hoopla and festivities.

Sometimes the lower round guys turn out far better, like Pro Bowl defensive back Gary Fencik of the Miami Dolphins, chosen 280 picks later in the same draft in the 10th round, or Tampa Bay’s Pro Bowl wide receiver Carl Roches, selected four rounds after that with the 377th pick.

Five Hall of Fame players and 15 Pro Bowlers were picked in 1976, all but one of them long after the Seahawks chose Steve Neihaus. The vast majority had no fanfare when selected, as is the case in most NFL drafts.

But Steve Niehaus remains the guy we all remember, those of us old enough and fortunate enough to remember the very first NFL draft for the Seattle Seahawks


Written by PhilCaldwell

April 28, 2011 at 10:50 am

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