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When cornerback Darrell Green came out of Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M-Kingsville) in 1982, he was all of 5-foot-8 and weighed 160 pounds—maybe.
And despite his world class sprinter’s speed and a remarkable collegiate career, 27 NFL teams passed on him in the first round of the 1983 draft, wary about his size and his ability to cover and tackle far bigger men.
But not Bobby Beathard.
Then Washington NFL team’s rather unconventional general manager, he selected Green with the 28th pick that year, the last selection in the first round. Beathard had even tried to trade up to get him earlier, with no takers, and he was amazed that Green was still on the board that late when it was his turn to make a choice.
Beathard’s instincts, it turns out, were dead on. Green would go on to play 20 seasons for the franchise, with a team record 54 interceptions, some stunning punt returns, and a remarkable career that ultimately landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This weekend, Beathard will join him, voted in as a “contributor” at age 81 and to be inducted Saturday in a ceremony in Canton, Ohio. It is a long over-due honor for an extraordinary talent evaluator who made the single most important decision in the history of the organization. And it had nothing to do with drafting Green.
After supplying the players for two Super Bowl victories as the Miami Dolphins director of player personnel, Beathard was hired away from Don Shula by former Washington team president Edward Bennett Williams as general manager in 1978, replacing the departed George Allen. Then, after firing head coach Jack Pardee following the 1979 season, Beathard went after an obscure assistant coach working for the San Diego Chargers to replace him.
That coach would be Joe Gibbs.
And with Beathard picking the players and Gibbs as coach, the greatest era in team history unfolded over the next dozen years.
Under Gibbs, the ‘Skins played in four Super Bowls, winning three. Beathard was gone for the last one in 1992, having departed following the 1988 season when he and Gibbs could not reconcile their so-called philosophical differences. Beathard decided to leave for the San Diego Chargers, where he merely stocked another Super Bowl team, his seventh overall.
Clearly there were no lingering hard feelings, because Beathard asked Gibbs to give his presentation speech at Saturday’s induction ceremony.
When Beathard left for the Chargers, he was replaced in Washington by his long-time assistant, Charley Casserly, the man who helped put together much of that ’92 Super Bowl team.
“Bobby was never afraid to go against the grain,” Casserly tells City Paper. “Darrell Green was the obvious example there. What Bobby believed in, he did, and he didn’t care what other people thought. If he made a mistake, and there weren’t many, he admitted it and moved on. He also was aggressive in trading. He didn’t think twice about trading a No. 1 pick if he thought it could help us get better players. It was just an aggressive mentality, his conviction on decisions that may not have been real popular with the fans, but he didn’t really care about that.”
Beathard also went against other grains. In all the years I covered him for The Washington Post, I don’t think I ever saw him wear a shirt and a tie. His preferred mode of dress was marathon chic, because he was a dedicated long-distance runner. He’d usually come out to practice in running shorts, a T-shirt and his favorite pair of Nikes. A dress-up day was usually a pair of Levis and a polo shirt.
“Bobby wasn’t dressed like everyone else, he thought shorts were formal wear,” former Washington quarterback Joe Theismann once said, according to The Orange County Register.
As for Beathard’s scouting skills, Theismann added, “he wanted to find out what a guy was like as a person. Joe Jacoby walked into the office and looked like a defensive tackle, and they made him an offensive tackle, and he should be in the Hall of Fame, too. Art Monk was a running back at Syracuse, but Bobby saw his hands.”
On a personal note, not long after Beathard came to Washington, during training camp that first year, he actually convinced me to start a running program, as well. It led to a significant weight loss, a few completed marathons and now, 40 years later, one knee replacement and another on the horizon.
Thanks a lot, Bobby. Still, like Gibbs, I’ve long since gotten over it.
Beathard was always a delight to be around. Though always guarded about his thinking on personnel decisions, he loved to tell stories—much like Gibbs and usually off the record—and was incredibly modest despite all his success and all those Super Bowls. And now, he’s a Hall of Famer, complete with the iconic yellow blazer that goes to all inductees.
“I’ll probably only wear it at the Hall,” Beathard said after he’d been selected.
With a tie? Probably not.
Leonard Shapiro retired in 2011 after 41 years as a sports reporter, editor, and columnist at The Washington Post.
Photo by Sarah Miller on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.