Revisiting the 1993 NFL Draft with Todd Rucci

 In Sports

Millions of viewers were expected to tune in Thursday for the opening night of the NFL Draft in Las Vegas, Nev.

But Lititz’s Todd Rucci, a former New England Patriots’ lineman, wasn’t likely to be among them.

Don’t be mistaken. Rucci is as big a football fan as anybody. But for someone who lived the draft in 1993, being selected in the second round (51st overall) by the Pats, he just doesn’t have a lot of desire to watch.

“I’ll keep an eye on it,” Rucci said, “but I don’t know, I eat that stress, so when I see that and then they start showing players, that reminds of how stressful that was and I don’t need to go there. I’m good.”

La Jolla, Calif., a neighborhood in San Diego County, Calif., at the office of his agent, is where Rucci spent the 1993 NFL Draft. After helping lead Penn State to a 7-5 record and an appearance at the Blockbuster Bowl the previous fall under legendary coach Joe Paterno, the 6-foot-5, 296-pounder and his camp were figuring the second round as his landing spot.

The draft, though, isn’t an exact science and there was some talk that perhaps Rucci could even be selected late in the first round. A knee injury had prevented him from playing for the Nittany Lions until halfway through the 1992 season, and no one knew how that would affect his status.

“They say you’re going to go in what round, (but) you could go two rounds either way,” said Rucci, who played eight seasons in the NFL through the 1999 season. “So I easily could have gone in the fifth round or the fourth round. Or the third round. I was thrilled to get there and happy I made it as long as I did.”

Turns out, Rucci still didn’t know where he’d be headed by the time Green Bay selected Alabama’s George Teague with the 29th and final pick in the opening round. Unlike today’s immense hype, with ESPN and the NFL Network providing wall-to-wall television coverage of every round in the draft, Rucci’s only option at that point was to follow the sports ticker. Only the first-round of the draft, which was still a two-day event then, was shown on television.

Finally and mercifully, later that same day, Saturday, April 25, Rucci got a phone call from New England boss Bill Parcells notifying him that the Patriots had drafted him. At the NFL Draft site on the opposite coast, at the Marriott Marquis in New York City, the Dolphins traded their second- and third-round selections (51st and 90th) to the Patriots for wide receiver Irving Fryar, and New England used the first of those to pick up Rucci.

“I sat around in (my agent’s) office and we watched the first round go by and then the TV went off,” Rucci said. “I remember going out on his deck and just kinda sitting back and waiting for my world to change and it being very stressful.”

Asked what Parcells said to him, Rucci said, “It was kind of a blur, but I remember him saying, ‘Hey, we just drafted you 51st and we’re looking forward to getting you up here.’ I’m sure he said something about Penn State. I remember he always had an affinity for Penn State linemen.”

Twenty-nine years later, Rucci recalls that he thought he’d be going to either Miami or New England. With 28 teams competing in the NFL at that time, however, he knew that he had to be flexible and prepared to relocate anywhere.

“The hard thing is, you’re sitting there waiting for a phone call to tell you where you’re going to move to and where you’re going to work,” Rucci said. “I never watched a New England Patriots’ game ever. The first game I ever saw was the one I played in. I knew New England, but had never been up to anywhere in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut – never been up in that area. So it was pretty cool.”

As a youngster in the Upper Darby school district, prior to earning his diploma with the Royals in 1988, Rucci rooted for the San Diego Chargers and his hometown Philadelphia Eagles. 

“Growing up in Philly, you had to be an Eagles’ fan,” he said. “Otherwise, you’d get beat up in the parking lot or beat up on the streets.”

Rucci, himself, would soon be beating up opponents’ defensive linemen.  But with the Patriots coming off a 2-14 season in 1992, which landed them Washington State quarterback Drew Bledsoe with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, Rucci and their new influx of talent helped New England steadily climb the standings.

In fact, Rucci and Bledsoe, who became close friends, and their teammates eventually advanced to Super Bowl XXXI, played Jan. 26, 1997, against the Green Bay Packers.

“Quite honestly,” Rucci said, “the time where the Patriots were down and we were in that rebuilding mode, I’m glad I went where I did when I did.”

Besides the differences in the scale of what the NFL Draft has become, Rucci notes the presence of social media and the ever-growing power of television as another significant transformation. On the one hand, players today are probably able to gain more exposure and get scouted easier because of Twitter and other platforms. But at the same time, all things being equal, the scrutiny on them has also increased.

“I think one of the tough things, for me personally, is to look at what happens where the NFL Combine now is televised,” Rucci said. “It’s awesome to watch, but other than (Thursday) and (Friday) and the draft day, it’s the most stressful time in these young athletes’ lives because they’re being tested, they’re telling them to run. Your whole world is on the line, and maybe that’s good and bad. I mean, it’s kinda cool to watch and that’s what makes football such a great sport for viewership and it’s why it has that popularity. But I sure as heck didn’t want my pro day being nationally televised just in case it didn’t go well. But that’s the world we live in. Every game is televised and that’s what you do.”

A number of Wisconsin Badger players who have been teammates in recent years with the Rucci brothers – Hayden and Nolan – could be on television starting this fall if they hear their names called in the draft. Naturally, the Rucci family will be following them.

“We have a couple of guys obviously from Wisconsin that we’re rooting for,” Todd said.

Since Parcells has retired from coaching, he won’t be on the other end of the phone. But then again, they won’t have to learn about their future from the ticker either.

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