Leading up to the 2010 NFL draft, Buffalobills.com will be sharing the memories of some of the Bills most memorable draft choices as we ask you the fan to pick your top 10 all-time draft choices in team history. Was it a choice of incomparable value? Was it the top pick in the draft? Was it a pick that far exceeded anyone’s expectations? Those choices are up to you the fan, and they can be made at the Buffalo Bills all-time draft site between now and April 22nd.
For small school and lower division prospects, the NFL Draft process is a bit less familiar even today. Almost 20 years ago it was even more foreign to prospective players from the lower ranks of college football. One such player in that situation back in 1991 was defensive end Phil Hansen.
After wrapping up a productive collegiate career at Division II North Dakota State, Hansen was considered a legitimate pro prospect. Setting school records for sacks (41) and pass break ups (32) while also being part of a pair of national championship teams, Hansen had a good chance of coming off the board on day one of the 1991 NFL draft. So he did what he could to prepare for the pre-draft process.
“Coming out of a Division II college I was a little unknown, so every opportunity I got to compete with the big boys I jumped on it,” Hansen said. “I was always a late addition to those postseason all-star games. I played in the East-West Shrine game. I went to a now defunct Div-II vs. Div-1-AA game. I think it was called the All-American Classic. I played in the Blue-Gray game and then the next thing was the combine, but back then it was in early February.”
Having played in his last all-star game on Jan. 25th that year, Hansen had just a week to prepare for the combine.
“I just remember my agent kind of telling me what to expect at the combine and what drills I would have to perform,” he said. “I got there and I was ready to do everything. I wish I could have prepared a little more.”
Hansen fared well in all the agility drills, finishing in the top five in his position group for almost all of them. Where he was disappointed was at the bench press.
“I wasn’t very strong,” Hansen said. “I only did 17 reps on the bench press. But all my agility numbers were outstanding.”
To improve those bench press number Hansen hit the weight room hard when he returned to the North Dakota State campus. The only problem was NFL teams were sending scouts up to Fargo to work him out, and didn’t exactly give Hansen advanced notice.
“People would always come in unannounced,” said Hansen. “I’d get a call in class and my coach would say, ‘Hey the Jets are up here and they want you to come do some drills for them.’ So I remember I would always do my heavy lifting on Thursday or Friday because I was pretty sure no teams would be coming in on those days. I didn’t want to have a heavy lifting day and have them come in that afternoon and not be at my best. But I still wanted to lift. I remember Tampa Bay and the Jets and Pittsburgh all came in. Buffalo came in too.”
The Bills made one visit to campus, sending scout Doug Majeski to work Hansen out. There was only one problem. In late February and early March in Fargo, North Dakota, conducting a workout outdoors is not really an option. Typically the workouts would be done in the college gymnasium, but it was occupied for a sporting event.
“We had to go to a local high school, Fargo North,” said Hansen. “And that gym was being used too.”
Hansen and Majeski had to improvise.
“I wound up doing my testing for the Bills in the hallway of Fargo North high school about three blocks away from the college,” he said laughing. “We did some running tests and some jumping tests. We did mostly the short burst tests, no 40-yard dashes. He wanted a time for a five-yard burst and a 10-yard burst. It was kind of embarrassing that we couldn’t find a place to do the work out.”
Though the Jets made more than one visit up to campus prior to the draft along with the Steelers, Buffalo made just that single trip. So on draft day the Bills weren’t exactly in the forefront of Hansen’s consciousness.
Local television affiliates in Fargo had asked Hansen if they could come to his off campus apartment to cover over the course of the afternoon, but he declined.
“I was just sitting around,” said Hansen in describing his draft day. “ESPN back then had the first round of the draft on so I watched that all day. I had three roommates and there were four of us in the apartment and we didn’t have call waiting because we were too cheap to buy it. So I’d be having other friends call me and ask, ‘Hey did you hear anything yet?’ And I’d tell them, ‘Shut up and get off the phone!’ And I’d hang up on them. They were calling relentlessly all day. So every time the phone rang I’m wondering if it’s a team calling. The more often people called, the more ticked off I got. I was waiting for a call, not their call.”
In the early 90’s ESPN’s coverage of the draft was limited to four hours, often consisting of just the first round. It left Hansen with a bit of a dilemma.
“At about 4 pm they were done with the first round and they were five to eight picks into the second round and ESPN cut away from the draft and went to some other programming,” he said. “So I started looking around saying, ‘Well what are we going to do now?’ I didn’t know if I was going to get drafted in the second, third or fourth round. So I didn’t know if I should stay in my place or go out for a while.”
Hansen elected to stay and two and a half hours later with the second to last pick in round two, the defensive end became a Buffalo Bill.
“I remember getting a call at around 6:30 and it was Buffalo and Bill Polian was on the line, then he passed the phone to Marv Levy and (defensive coordinator) Walt Corey,” said Hansen. “I don’t remember what they said or what I said. It was really all kind of a blur. Then there was relief after that, at least until I got to Buffalo and was a rookie again.”
Coming off of their first Super Bowl, Hansen believes the Bills saw him as a bit of a project knowing he had to get stronger and adjusted to the step up in competition. But all of that changed when Bruce Smith went down for most of the season with a shoulder injury. It only added to one of the more dramatic 12-month stretches in Hansen’s life.
“From my last game in college to my first game in the NFL, what a whirlwind,” said Hansen. “Three all-star games, the combine, a draft, the rookie minicamp and then getting thrown to the wolves playing as a rookie for a team coming off a Super Bowl.
“My first game I ever played in was the first I saw and it was in Wembley Stadium because we had one of those overseas preseason games. I had never been to an NFL game before. I had seen them on TV, but I had never been to one. I was kind of oblivious to what it was all about, but that’s not all bad. You kind of take it as it comes. That first year I go to the Super Bowl in Minneapolis of all places. It was just something in totality that I’ll never forget.”
And Bills fans of the team’s Super Bowl era are unlikely to forget the former second-round pick that manned the left defensive end position for the better part of the next 11 years.