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.*
It's easy to imagine the nerves associated with waiting for your name to be called at the NFL draft. The majority of draft hopefuls often anxiously await the start of their careers in the hustle and bustle of New York City. Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Joe Ferguson took a different approach, however.
As a matter of fact, on draft day he was literally as far removed as one could possibly be from city life.
Instead of soaking in the sights and sounds of an exciting start to what proved to be a bright career, the only thing soaking was his fishing line. And the only sights and sounds involved were the quiet calm of nature.
His mother was a nervous wreck, as was his father. The only way to assuage the anxiety, they believed, was a good, old-fashioned father-son trip to the local fishing hole.
"Well, I remember being at my mom and dad's house," said Ferguson. "My dad was a wreck, and my mom wouldn't talk to anybody. We waited around the whole day, then we left and went fishing."
The tranquility didn't last. Normally providing the perfect amount of relaxation, fishing just wasn't cutting it. His father still couldn't get past the nervousness surrounding what was, at that point, the most important day in Ferguson's young life.
"He couldn't stand it, so we left and went back to the house," Ferguson said. "Somewhere around 3 o'clock we got a call from the Buffalo Bills, which was not a team we were anticipating. We hadn't received any information from them at all. When Buffalo came up, we were going, 'Where's that?'"
Buffalo was the last place he thought he'd end up. It was a long courtship with the Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys that led Ferguson to think so. Nonetheless, the Bills selected him in the third round (57th overall) out of the University of Arkansas in the 1973 draft.
Those were the days before the NFL Combine, however. In many ways the recruiting process wasn't as visible as it is today. Ferguson admits to knowing many other organizations had perhaps taken an interest, but it was much more common in the earlier days of pro football for more to fly under the radar.
"I pretty well felt that I was going to get drafted," he said. "I felt like I was going to get my chance. I was nervous about it, but I wasn't nearly as nervous as my dad. Things went good, and it all worked out. I knew I was going to get a chance somewhere and I just wanted to take advantage of it."
And that's exactly what Ferguson did. After finding Buffalo on an atlas – and an all-day flight which included stops in Dallas, Houston, Charlotte and Pittsburgh – he set out to start what would become one of the best careers at the quarterback position in Bills history.
Ferguson went on to throw 196 touchdown passes (181 of which came during his 12 years in Buffalo). In 1983, he connected for 26 TDs, and his best overall passing season was 1981, when he threw for 3,652 yards.
Before he started tacking up solid numbers, though, Ferguson was less than impressed with what he thought Buffalo had to offer. The Bills, in those days, worked out in a hotel and ran 40-yard dashes in a parking lot – using parking barriers as starting blocks.
"Needless to say I thought I was going to the end of the world," Ferguson said. "But like I said, I was interested in playing for anyone in the league. I never even thought about (playing in) Canada. I was not impressed, to be honest with you, but we did know the new stadium was being built and it was going to open that year."
While the practice facilities, in his view, weren't that impressive, Buffalo provided Ferguson with the opportunity to prove himself as a pro QB. He did so and became one of the best draft choices in Bills history.
His career, which saw the cancer survivor amass 27,590 yards in the old-school blue and white Bills uniform, was honored accordingly. In 1995, Ferguson was elected to the Bills Wall of Fame.