In The War Room


Mike Sherman & Mark Hatley

It's 2:15 p.m., Sunday afternoon, April 21, 2002.

Outside, it's snowing, but you neither notice nor care. You are in a room without windows, you are in the warmth of the Green Bay Packers' 'War Room.'

It's the sixth round of the 2002 NFL Draft. The Oakland Raiders are on the clock with the 189th overall selection, a pick acquired from the Cleveland Browns.

The Packers are 11 picks away from being on the clock themselves with the 28th pick of the round, the 200th overall. The draft will run into a seventh round, but the Packers' picks stop here.

Yesterday, from this room, had come the selections of wide receiver Javon Walker (Florida State) in the first round and defensive back Marques Anderson (UCLA) in the third. Today, the Packers have already claimed fullback Najeh Davenport (Miami) in the fourth round and both defensive lineman Aaron Kampman (Iowa) and quarterback Craig Nall (Northwestern State, La.) in the fifth. Just one more name remains to be called in Green Bay. Just one.

At the center of the War Room is a long table, and at the middle of the table is a chair reserved for General Manager/Head Coach Mike Sherman. Just to his left sits Reggie McKenzie, Director of Pro Personnel.

Various other staff members are scattered about the room. Assistant coaches and scouts come and go.

Al Treml, the Packers' retired video director acting as the team's representative on the floor of the Madison Square Garden Theatre in New York.

Amidst this organized chaos, something stands out, some things actually. They are player identity cards, no taller than two inches, no wider than five, and there are hundreds of them. Name after name, stat after stat, listed in black ink on white stock and plastered all over three of the War Room's four walls. It's what Betty Crocker's kitchen would look like if she tacked up all her recipes.

The back wall lists every NFL team's roster going into the draft. The wall on the left charts each franchise's draft selections. The front wall contains the infamous working 'draft board.'

It's a grid of names. The horizontal axis separates players by position. The vertical axis separates them by round, a thin red line of tape clearly marking the difference between first-round talent and second-round talent, and so on.

Eliot Wolf, the 20-year-old son of former general manager and legendary draft expert Ron Wolf, is hustling to update the board, but with fewer than a dozen selections remaining until the Packers' number is up, the following is clear: the board has taken a beating.

The first-round row is empty. Ditto the second, same with the third. The fourth-round stanza has five names left and there are seven in the fifth. The numbers increase dramatically in the rows thereafter.

Also full are numerous sideboards, packed with names that will either be snatched up in the seventh round or fall to the free agent market where the Packers could have a crack at them.

By 2:30 p.m., when Seattle selects Michigan State punter Craig Jarrett, the draft board's fourth-round row is empty and there are but five survivors remaining in the fifth-round section.

The Packers themselves have pulled two cards at which to look. The names read, Mike Houghton and Aaron Lockett.

Houghton is a versatile offensive lineman out of San Diego State. Packers offensive line coach Larry Beightol has seen tape of him playing virtually every position on the line and likes what he sees in the 6-foot-6, 315 pounder.

Lockett is a 5-foot-7, 155-pound wide receiver out of Kansas State, but his contributions to the Packers would most likely come in the form of special teams. At K-State, he averaged 15.6 yards per punt return and 25.3 yards per kick return over two seasons.

The Packers will return all five starting offensive linemen from 2001. In terms of a punt return man they bring back only questions and possibilities. Thus, it is Lockett who might make the most immediate impact, but which one would make the grade long-term?

2:33 p.m. The New Orleans Saints acquire John Gilmore, a tight end from Penn State. A call goes out in the War Room, "We are three picks away."

After all the last minute checks and balances, the Packers know who they want. They'll go with the lineman, Houghton, and look to the future.

They'd had their eye on him all the way back in the fourth round. Houghton has made it this far, but they're confident he won't last until the free agent market and they won't dare risk it. It's time to strike.

2:41 p.m. The Chicago Bears select Adrian Peterson with the 199th overall selection. In the War Room, the transaction is announced, then the call goes out from Mock, "We are on the clock."

McKenzie gets Houghton on the phone.

It's not snowing in San Diego. In fact, Houghton is outside barbequing with his family when his phone rings.

"It's our pick, big fella," McKenzie tells him.

Houghton is confused. He's spoken with the Packers earlier in the day and knows of their interest. He's aware that their pick is approaching, but on ESPN-2's draft ticker he's just seen teammate Larry Ned go to Oakland at No. 197.

McKenzie hands the phone to Sherman to "set him straight."

Sherman toys with Houghton, telling him it's down to two players. He informs Houghton that "if" he's selected he wants him the to move out to Green Bay, not shuttle back and forth to the West Coast.

That's how we do it, Sherman tells him. Houghton replies that he'll do whatever it takes.

"Do I have your word on that?" Sherman asks.

"You have my word," Houghton responds.

"Congratulations, you're a Green Bay Packer."

The phone goes back to McKenzie who tells Houghton to stay on the line until it's official. In San Diego, Houghton's family is waiting to learn exactly what the phone call means. Houghton still can't believe it enough to tell them.

McKenzie informs Houghton about the current weather conditions in Green Bay and instructs him to pack accordingly.

"Leave the silk at home," he says. "Wool. Wool."

Finally, the card is ready.

"They're sending it in," McKenzie tells him. "Congratulations."

Handshakes abound in the War Room, but it ain't over yet. There are 61 picks remaining in the draft and they'll have to chart each one. At the conclusion of the draft, they'll hit the free agent market immediately.

McKenzie completes his phone conversation with Houghton. As he hangs-up, McKenzie shakes Sherman's hand and says proudly, "We got our boy."

In San Diego, Houghton watches his name flash across the ticker. It might not be as glamorous as standing on the podium in Madison Square Garden and posing with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, but it's just as glorious.

"Obviously it's the most exciting moment," Houghton will say the following day. "It's still kind of like a dream. It hasn't sunk in yet."

Beightol reports to the Packers' media auditorium where he compliments Houghton's versatility and calls him the best offensive line prospect he'd analyzed in a pool of almost 50 athletes.

"He's got the tools, we just have to do the teaching to get it out of him," Beightol says. "The thing I like about him is when I saw (tape of) him playing these different spots, he had production . . .What you see is what you get, that's been my experience."

Later, Sherman offers a breakdown of the decision to media curious about the Packers' punt-returning plans for the upcoming season.

"(Our last pick) came down to an offensive lineman and Lockett," Sherman says. "I thought we might get Lockett in free agency [he'd already been selected by Tampa Bay in the seventh round], but he's 5-7, 153 pounds, and I couldn't give up Houghton, who I think is going to be a good offensive lineman."

The NFL Draft is over. Outside, snow continues to fall, a blanket of tiny white squares.

If you think you saw Javon Walker's name, height and weight, listed on the last snowflake to drift by, you've been in the War Room too long.

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