New York Giants Draft History 1970-75
John Fennelly , Lead Writer
It’s draft season and we thought we’d rehash some of the fond memories from my 47 years as a fan of the New York Football Giants. Every other day, from now until the draft, we will cover the Giants’ draft history from 1970 to today. Hope you enjoy and please comment with your memories and perceptions as well.
The Giants’ media guys describe the 1970′s as such: The Giants in the 1970s could best be described as a team in transition. The team called four different stadiums home, played in three different states, and did not play in one postseason game. Teams like the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, and Giants, so strong in the NFL’s forma- tive years, gave way to new powers like Dallas, Pittsburgh and Minnesota.
Perfect. Not too specific, kindly saving us the pain of having to re-live that period. The beginning of the decade was spotted with a few winning seasons, but as the decade went on, the Giants became a hopeless mess that prompted NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to intervene in 1979.
Co-owners Wellington Mara and his nephew Tim were embroiled in a family feud and were not on speaking terms. As a result, the on-field product suffered greatly. The Giants made poor personnel decision after poor personnel decision. They traded away high draft picks and many of the ones they did make were largely busts.
In this piece, we will analyze the team’s drafts from 1970-1975. In 1970, the Giants fell short of the playoffs with a 9-5 record, losing badly to the Rams, 31-3, at Yankee Stadium in the final game of the season. But the writing was on the wall. The Giants were a team that had planned poorly under Allie Sherman. They would soon begin to crumble along with Yankee Stadium.
In the 1970 draft, the Giants chose Oklahoma LB Jim Files with the 13th overall pick. Files became a four-year starter for the Giants at MLB, but what fans may remember most about Files was the day the equipment manager spelled his name wrong on the back of his jersey. Due to trades, the Giants did not have a second or third-round selection. The only other player of worth to come out of this draft was LB Pat Hughes, their 9th round pick.
In 1971, the team perhaps made what would become the most notorious pick in franchise history. They chose West Texas A&M RB Rocky Thompson with the 18th overall selection. From Leonard Koppett of the Times:
After talking endlessly about the need to bolster their defense, the New York Giants wound up making two little publicized offensive players their first two draft choices yesterday. They were Ralph (Rocky) Thompson, a running back from West Texas State who will be used as a wide receiver, and Wayne Walton, an offensive tackle from Abilene Christian.
Thompson was a world-class sprinter but he could never translate that into an NFL career. He was released in 1974. The rest of the draft yielded very little. The Giants fell to 4-10, losing their last five in disappointing fashion.
Star QB Fran Tarkenton asked to be traded after the season, and the Giants obliged sending him back to the Vikings. The Giants got fair value for Tarkenton, but they would soon squander that opportunity. From Sports Illustrated:
The Vikings paid a fair price for Tarkenton, yet not a price that weakens the team materially. They gave up Bob Grim, an All-Pro wide receiver, Norm Snead, a peripatetic quarterback who languished on the bench for most of 1971, Vince Clements, a rookie running back who sat out the season after a knee operation, and two draft choices—their No. 1 this year and No. 2 in 1973.
The Giants would reverse the ledger in 1972, going 8-6 behind the passing of Snead, who led the NFL in passing and was named to the Pro Bowl. It would be their last winning season of the decade.
The 1972 draft didn’t do too much to secure the team’s future, either. The Giants had two first rounders which they spent on defensive players: WR/DB Eldridge Small of Texas A&I (Texas A&M – Kingsville) – #17 overall – and Nebraska DL Larry Jacobson (#24). Both were out of football by 1975. Of the 18 players chosen that year, only one player stuck with the club more than three seasons: DT John Mendenhall, who turned out to be a helluva player on the Giants’ defense for nine seasons.
The 1973 draft was an overall disaster as well. The Giants did not have a first round pick but wiselyused their second rounder on Michigan State’s Brad Van Pelt, who was the first safety ever to win the Maxwell Award as the nation’s best player. BVP was moved to OLB, where he excelled, becoming a five-time Pro Bowler. Van Pelt passed away at age 57 in 2009. He was named to the Giants’ Ring of Honor in 2011.
The rest of their remaining 14 picks only produced one player of worth: Cal Lutheran LB Brian Kelley, who lasted until the 14th round. Kelley went on to become one of the best LBs in franchise history as a member of the legendary “Crunch Bunch.”
The Giants fell to 2-11-1 in 1973. Head coach Alex Webster resigned after the season. The team also closed out the Yankee Stadium era, playing only two games there, moving north to the Yale Bowl in New Haven for the remainder of the season.
The 1974 draft was seen as an integral one in getting the Giants back on their feet. Naturally, they blew it. Needing offensive lineman, they chose Ohio State’s John Hicks third overall and Tom Mullen of SW Missouri St in Round Two. Hicks became a starter, but lasted only four years. Mullen also had a short career and did not earn a starting spot until 1976. In the Giants’ defense, 1974 was not a good year for OLs overall. Just their luck…In the 10th round the Giants selected Ray Rhodes, who would lead the team with six TD receptions in 1975. By 1977, Rhodes was a defensive back.
The Giants played their entire 1974 home schedule at the Yale Bowl under new head coach Bill Arnsparger. The results were pretty much the same as 1973. They went 2-12 in an ugly campaign. Snead only started five games and was dealt to San Francisco. The Giants foolishly traded their 1975 first round pick to Dallas for QB Craig Morton, who was supplanted by Roger Staubach. Morton started eight games, losing six, while tossing 9 TDs and 13 INTs.
In 1975, the Giants sat out the first round. By virtue of their 2-12 finish, they earned the second-overall selection. However, they no longer owned that pick. They watched the Cowboys select Maryland DL Randy White with that selection. White would go on to become one of the game’s best lineman. He was named First team All-Pro nine times and won a Super Bowl MVP en route to a berth in the Pro Football HOF in 1994.
Meanwhile, the Giants continued their efforts to protect the statuesque Morton by taking OL Al Simpson of Colorado State in Round Two. He played only two seasons for the Giants starting a total of eight games. Yikes. They took West Virginia WR Danny Buggs in Round Three. He lasted a few years. The real gem of this draft would be their 12th round selection: a DE out of Oregon by the name of George Martin.
The season, played at a dusty, disgusting Shea Stadium, was headed for complete disaster before they salvaged it with wins over New Orleans and San Francisco, raising their record to 5-9 and avoiding a third consecutive last place finish.
Here’s some video from Week 4 of 1975 when the Cowboys visited the Giants at Shea