I can't tell you how many times people have asked me, "How did you get in the NFL?"
The answer might surprise you.
I was thinking back the other day to just how little I really had to do with it. What you are about to read is more outside the box than seeing an NFL team without a punter on the roster. I really had very little to do with it.
There is a very strong chance I was conceived on January 14, 1973. That is my mom's birthday. That is also the day the Washington Redskins played in their very first Super Bowl against the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VII. I was born on October 11, 1973. If you do the math, it's almost nine months to the day!
Flash forward to when I was eight years old. That's the day I saw my very first NFL game. The hometown Minnesota Vikings were playing against the Redskins on an old RCA television in the corner of my parents' living room and it was love at first sight. It was no different than when two people fall in love. There was just something about the Redskins. Coach Gibbs, Riggins, the Hogs, the crowd at R.F.K. Stadium in D.C. and those colors, the burgundy and gold. The Redskins captured my heart, my mind and my imagination. That's the only way I can describe it. This game awakened something deep within me. The Redskins became my passion, my obsession and I ate, breathed and slept Redskins football around the clock. I couldn't get enough of it. A couple weeks later after I watched my very first game, the Redskins won their first Super Bowl and John Riggins was the game's MVP. Years later, I discovered if you add up all the digits in my social security number, they equal 44, which just happens to be John Riggins' jersey number.
I'll never forget watching a game on my birthday in 1987 during the replacement games. I was 13. The 'Skins were playing against the NY Giants and the star of the game was running back, Lionel Vital. He had the biggest game of his career that day in the New Jersey Meadowlands.
At 17, my parents gave me a book for my birthday, "Secrets of an NFL Scout," by Tony Razzano, the architect of the 49ers dynasty of the 80's. I couldn't put it down. I knew it in my heart right then and there, this is what I want to be, I want to be an NFL scout!
At 21, I was working as an insurance agent when suddenly a commercial came on the local sports radio station, KFAN Radio in Minnesota. That's the state I grew up in. The commercial said the first thirty-two callers could call in and get on the radio to participate in the Vikings special mock draft party before the NFL Draft that year. I was the second caller and was told I would be representing the Jacksonville Jaguars on the air. I arrived out at Winter Park, the Minnesota Vikings headquarters, and remember feeling scared to death as I approached the open microphone. The radio announcer said, "With the second pick in the 1995 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select...." I leaned into the microphone and said, "Tony Boselli, offensive tackle, USC." It was just then I saw Tony Dungy, who was the Vikings Defensive Coordinator, sitting in the corner of the room. I approached him and asked him if he would be willing to look at some of my scouting reports. He took the reports and began reading them and said, "How would you feel about coming to my office next week and we could talk some more about your scouting reports." I could not believe it! That turned out to be a six-month unpaid internship with Coach Dungy before he left for Tampa Bay and I went back to the real world and even tried selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door.
Three years later at 24, I was working as a loan officer at a bank. I was sitting in this really boring real estate law class and this idea popped into my head out of nowhere, "What am I doing here? I have to give my dream one last chance." Then the idea popped into my head that I had a little satellite dish and that I could order the College Football Package on Direct TV to record as many games as possible. More ideas came to mind, how I could stop at the store on the way home from work and get notebooks, folders and pens. Next thing I knew, I was working at the bank by day and moonlighting as an aspiring scout by night.
One night while watching college games and writing scouting reports, I took a break at 2 a.m. to heat up some pizza rolls. The channel just happened to be tuned to ESPN and I found myself watching this show about Wayne Chrebet, an undrafted free-agent receiver from Hofstra University and the show was talking about how his dad, Wayne Chrebet Sr., sent out highlight tapes to every team in the NFL, hoping to land his son an opportunity. Right when I heard that, it's like a light bulb went on over my head. That's it! I had only tried getting in with the Redskins, I had never tried to get in with any other team. Suddenly, I had this thought that I would send in my scouting reports to every team in the NFL. However, I had no idea how to make the reports look presentable. I thought of putting all my reports in three-ring binders, but that would look bulky and all I envisioned was the teams taking out my scouting reports, throwing them in the garbage and using the binders for something else. Had I not seen this show in the middle of the night, I would have only sent my scouting reports to the Redskins.
The next day, I talked to my friend at the bank I was working at and told him about my idea of sending in my scouting reports to all the NFL teams, but I had no idea how to put it all together and make it look presentable. My friend suggested, "Why don't you get your scouting reports self-published into book form." I said, "How do you do that?" He said, "Get the phone book, call all the local publishers and tell them what you are trying to do." One publisher loved the idea and after seven months of working around the clock, my 350-page 1998 NFL Draft Book, my "resume" was published. I sent out three copies to every team in the NFL with absolutely no guarantees.
The first team that showed interest was the New Orleans Saints, but that fell through. Then the call came completely out of the blue from the New York Jets and I was hired to work in their pro scouting department. By the way, the Jets Director of Player Personnel at the time was a man named Dick Haley, who actually drafted Tony Dungy back with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1977. I'll never forget being introduced to everyone on the staff. I was walked into the war room and introduced to all the scouts, including Lionel Vital, who was now a scout for the Jets. I about fell on the floor. I could not believe it! Lionel and I quickly formed a friendship, he took me under his wing and became my scouting mentor.
The Jets won the AFC East my first season in the league and hosted a home playoff game at the New Jersey Meadowlands against the Jacksonville Jaguars. There were 78,817 fans in attendance. As the final seconds were ticking away and the Jets were celebrating victory, a man turned around and said something to me, that man, you will not believe it, that man was Wayne Chrebet Sr.
As if all this wasn't enough, my favorite player of all-time, John Riggins, started his career as a running back with the New York Jets before playing for the Redskins.
When I look back, I'm in awe, everything ties together like playing connect the dots. My life verse is Proverbs 16:9, "In his heart a man plans his ways, but the Lord orders his steps." It's true for me and it's true for you.
Daniel Kelly is a former Pro Scout with the New York Jets. He spent his first two seasons as a pro personnel assistant, his third season working as the Jets special teams scout and his fourth as the scout of "other leagues." You can learn more about him, his book and he can be contacted directly by email on his website, whateverittakesbook.com