Tuesday, April 22, 2003
Fine dining, trip to NY perks of phone job
By Len Pasquarelli
During a break in their respective activities Tuesday morning, Washington Redskins counsel Norm Chirite wandered into the office of player personnel director Vinny Cerrato, to diligently inquire about what items he needed to pack for his important trip to New York this weekend.A prominent attorney, and a man more accustomed to drafting legal briefs than strong safety prospects, Chirite will represent the Redskins at the NFL draft. Yep, he's the guy the ESPN cameras will catch sitting next to the team helmet-phone. And given that Washington doesn't own a choice until 12 deep into the second round, compliments of its free-agent shopping spree, perhaps the guy who might be nodding off during the early proceedings. Ignore the relative lack of activity -- one wag suggested that he pack a pillow and a good book and order a comfy lounge chair to get through the ordeal -- and Chirite is pretty typical of the folks who work the phones for the 32 teams at the draft. Except his pay check is probably a little fatter than most of them. By now most draftniks understand that the men and women sitting next to the helmet-phones on draft weekend, trying to look perpetually busy and seemingly always on the line with some unseen personage back at franchise headquarters, are not general managers or personnel directors or coaches. They are, for the most part, equipment men or video directors and, in some remote cases, merely the longtime buddy of a team owner. The Buffalo Bills, for instance, will be represented by equipment manager Dave Hojnowski. The guy handing in the selections for Philadelphia, and who has been doing it for years, is video director Mike Dougherty. For the Cincinnati Bengals, Jack Clary, the biographer of franchise founder Mike Brown, usually handles the duties. It is, for the most part, 15 minutes of celebrity in careers usually spent in working behind the scenes. For about 25 years, the Atlanta Falcons draft phone chores were handled by late and legendary equipment man Whitey Zimmerman and now-retired video director Tom Atcheson. Asked years ago what the task meant to him, Zimmerman paused for a few seconds, then responded: "A couple nights in a fancy New York hotel and a big meal on the company expense account." The self-deprecation aside, the people who work the phones and submit to the league their team's selection take their jobs seriously. As demonstrated last year, when the Minnesota Vikings argued they had turned in on time a card indicating they had chosen defensive tackle Ryan Sims, and then were denied him by a league ruling, timing can be essential. So can a sense of order and discipline, a basic knowledge of the prospects' names, the ability to take orders, and, oh, yeah, good hearing. In the 1982 draft, the Tampa Bay Bucs were set to draft defensive lineman Booker Reese with their first-round choice. But somehow, in a mix-up of monumental proportions, a card bearing the name of Penn State guard Sean Farrell was turned in to league officials. The Bucs were forced to send their first-round choice in the next year's draft to Chicago for a second-rounder in '82 to grab Reese and correct the mistake. As it turned out, Farrell turned out to enjoy a solid career and Reese was a bust. That was of small consolation to Tampa Bay officials who, for years, were chided about the snafu. Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.