Gordie Lockbaum was a little embarrassed. Here he was, a lowly ninth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and reporters were lined up to interview him.
On picture day, he signed autographs for 30 minutes and finally had to break it off to keep an appointment with a reporter. Young boys stood on tiptoes to touch him. Young girls swooned. One teen-age girl blushed when he spoke to her, then stuck a camera in her mouth and pretended to faint.Three television crews stopped him for interviews before he could walk from one end of the gym to the other at St. Vincent's College, where the Steelers train. And each time he stopped, a gaggle of reporters surrounded him with tape recorders.
It's doubtful that any player in NFL history has been drafted so low and received so much attention.
And Gordie Lockbaum understands. He just hopes his teammates do. "I hope they know that I don't consider myself a star or anything," Lockbaum said during a picture-day break. "So far, they seem to. They kid me about it. `Gordie, can I have your autograph?' That kind of thing."
The problem is this: Lockbaum, a two-way star and media darling at Holy Cross, finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting last year behind winner Tim Brown of Notre Dame and Lorenzo White of Michigan State. Yet, Brown and White were first-round draft choices and Lockbaum was the 236th player drafted, down there with the leftovers.
In other words, the pros could care less that Lockbaum was an extremely effective two-way college player, that he scored more touchdowns than any other player ever at Holy Cross, that he led Division I-AA in scoring and receiving, that he was an academic all-American or that Holy Cross went undefeated in 12 games his senior year. The pro teams were not willing to risk a high draft choice for a Division I-AA media darling.
"His biggest flaw, from a scouting perspective," said his agent, Brad Blank, "is that he doesn't run a fast 40. Now you might say that can be overlooked because he does all the other things so fantastically ... but that's not the way the system works. They are so obsessed with speed that they tend to overlook some other things.
"But I would be willing to bet that over time, the intangibles become more important. In a couple of years, when the dust clears, the scouts will second-guess themselves and say, `Boy, that Lockbaum turned out to be better than where we drafted him."'
Lockbaum will not talk about his contract, which he signed hours before practice opened last Sunday morning. "I can tell you," said Blank, "that I know what every guy in the ninth round made, and Gordie's contract stands up very well."