Vai's View: NFL Draft day memories

Published: Friday, April 29 2011 10:00 a.m. MDT

Millions watched. Cheered. A royal procession. Limousines. Wealth. Prestige. Tears of joy.

No, not William and Kate. I'm talking about the NFL Draft.

Will Cam Newton live up to his promise? Will Carolina regret its choice?

Each year, the NFL Draft holds the future of so many young men and their families in its palm.

Hard to believe, but this is the 25th anniversary of my draft class — 1986.

Ironically, the first pick that year was also a Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn, Bo Jackson, taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He never suited up in those cream-sickle uniforms because he had the leverage of being a power-hitting outfielder. He became a Kansas City Royal.

I was taken 253 picks later by the St. Louis Cardinals, who used one of two 10th-round picks to select me, back when there were 12 rounds. Unlike Bo, I didn't have a baseball career to fall back on, nor even a college degree. That came later.

But like so many things in my life, the NFL Draft was a seminal event that came unexpectedly. I mean, completely out of the blue.

I started a total of two games in my BYU career — both in my senior year. I was a solid return man, but did it with guile, vision, quickness and fearlessness — but entirely without speed, the hottest commodity in the NFL.

I ended my BYU career with three fumbles in the Citrus Bowl against Ohio State — two of them inside the 10; one as I was about to cross the end zone. We lost 10-7. When we left Orlando after the game, I believed it would be the last time I'd ever wear a football uniform. That premonition was only confirmed when I wasn't invited to the NFL Combine in February.

When NFL scouts gathered for Robbie Bosco, Kurt Gouveia, Leon White and Glen Kozlowski's pro day, I wasn't even asked to come catch footballs during drills for those marquee stars. So, I prepared to enroll for fall classes. After finals in April, my wife, Keala, and I drove with our newborn son to Mesa, Ariz., to spend a week or two with my parents, who were anxious to see their grandson.

I had even forgotten the draft was held our first weekend in Mesa. The first three rounds were televised on ESPN on Saturday, followed by rounds four through seven on Sunday. Rounds eight to 12 weren't televised but they had regular updates throughout the day.

We had returned from my parents' LDS ward on Sunday, had dinner, and were preparing to take our son to visit friends who hadn't seen him when the phone rang and my mother answered. She cupped the phone and told me it was a long distance call for me from New York. I didn't' know anyone in New York, so I asked her to take a message while I turned on the TV to see if any of my teammates had been drafted.

There was a full-screen chyron of the Green Bay Packers' choices and I saw they had taken Robbie in the third round. I glanced up to see if the phone was free so I could call Robbie to congratulate him only to see Mom still on the phone but waving me over. Annoyed now, I said, "Mom, can you get this guy off so I can use the phone?" She cut me off, "Son, this man won't hang up until he talks to you."

"Hello, this is Vai."

"Vai, this is Larry Wilson. I'm the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. I'm calling you from New York to tell you we are about to take you with our next pick."

"Next pick? What are you talking about?" I asked.

"Are you watching ESPN?" the voice replied.

"Yeah," I said. "It's on." We were talking in questions. "You talking about the NFL Draft?"

"Keep your eye on the screen."

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