Grimm_Russ_Drafting_700

The Drafting of the 2010 Class – Russ Grimm

Grimm_Russ_Drafting_700
04/20/2010

Hog Wild in Washington

Going into the 1981 National Football League season, the Washington Redskins were the definition of a team in major transition. Following a disappointing 6-10 season the year before, the team hired Joe Gibbs as its new head coach. He was the Redskins’ third head coach in five years.

Upon arrival, it was clear to Gibbs that a change in philosophy was greatly needed. The previous two men at the helm, George Allen and Jack Pardee, clearly favored veteran players and almost never gave much consideration to rookies or first-year players. As a result, the Redskins roster had become old and stale.

Gibbs, known as an offensive guru, quickly identified the offensive line as a major area in need of attention for Washington. The Redskins had ranked a paltry 23rd on offense in 1980 and gave up an unofficial count of 36 sacks for a loss of 333 yards.

Gibbs’ solution for the o-line line was to rebuild through the draft. This was a rather unfamiliar formula for the Redskins and their fans. Over the many years leading up to Gibbs tenure, the club more often than not traded away several of their draft picks to obtain proven veterans.

Day one of the 1981 NFL Draft occurred on April 28. Although the day included a flurry of trades by the Redskins, most of these moves involved an exchange for more draft picks rather than established players. When the dust settled, there was a distinctive “Pittsburgh” feel.

The Redskins sat idle with the 20th pick in the first round. Their top offensive line prospect was Outland Trophy winner and University of Pittsburgh tackle Mark May. Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard was pessimistic about May being available when it came time for the team to select. He even entertained the thought of trading the pick for two second round choices. The team, however, held firm and May was still on the board when it came time for the Redskins to make their selection.

The Redskins went the trade route to land a younger runner when they shipped their second round choice to the Baltimore Colts for halfback Joe Washington. The move filled another hole on the team’s offense but left the Redskins without another draft pick until the fifth round.

This was not acceptable as Washington also coveted another player from Pitt, center Russ Grimm. Regarded as the 20th best player in the NFL Draft by the Redskins, Grimm was a two-year starter and three-time letterman with the Panthers where he earned honorable mention All-America honors.

Grimm teamed with May at Pitt to form one of the strongest offensive lines in college football. The pair helped the Panthers to a 22-2 record over the 1979 and 1980 seasons, including a pair of Top 10 finishes in the polls. As seniors the duo helped the team to an 11-1 mark and were selected by The New York Times computer poll as the country’s No. 1 team.

As Pitt’s starting center, Grimm was key protector of star quarterback, and future Hall of Famer Dan Marino.

“There were games when my uniform never got dirty,” Marino once remarked. “There were games when I never hit the ground. That’s incredible.”

The Redskins, not eager to lose out on the prized player, orchestrated a trade with the Los Angeles Rams. Determined to land Grimm, the Redskins dealt a first round draft pick in the 1982 draft to the Rams for a third round and two fifth round choices in 1981. With the trade complete, the Redskins nabbed Grimm with their newly acquired third round pick.

As the 69th player selected overall, Grimm was expected to come into the Redskins’ training camp and win the starting center position. This did not pan out due to a combination of injuries and the strong play of second-year player Jeff Bostic. The team shifted Grimm to left guard and he easily took to the job and became the regular starter in his rookie season.

Midway through the year, May lost his starting left tackle position due to poor play. He was replaced by a rookie-free agent named Joe Jacoby. This move marked the birth of what many argue was the most punishing left side of an offensive line in history – Jacoby and Grimm.

Grimm won All-Rookie honors in 1981 and earned the reputation as the best offensive lineman on the team. Soon thereafter, a rather unusual occurrence happened when “stardom” hit a group of offensive linemen. The solid play of the Redskins’ front line, that included the return of May as a starter, earned the nickname “The Hogs” for their work “in the trenches.” Fans embraced the group of humble linemen as the symbol of the Redskins dominant offensive attack. The group led the way for bruising Hall of Fame runner John Riggins.

Gibbs’ plan of building an offensive line paid off in a big way. By Grimm’s second year Washington finished 8-1 in the strike-shortened season and capped the year with the franchise’s first-ever Super Bowl championship. More success followed for Grimm and the Redskins. During his 11-season NFL career, he played in five championship games and won three Super Bowl rings while the team suffered just one losing season during that stretch.

Giving up a future first round pick to take Grimm in the third round in ’81 proved to be a genius move. He became a premier guard who earned All-NFL accolades four times and was voted to four Pro Bowls. His contribution to the game is now permanently cemented in history with his recent election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Choudhry is a researcher at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He joined the Hall of Fame's staff in 1994.

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