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Sorry, No: This Is Not the New York Giants Calling

May 1st, 2021 · No Comments · College football, Football, Sports Journalism

In the spring of 1986, the three-sport star athlete Mark Collins of San Bernardino’s Pacific High School was one of the top prospects in the National Football League player draft.

You could ask anyone. He was a leader as well as an elite athlete, and the NFL did not miss him, even if he was a bit overlooked, at Cal State Fullerton. By the time the 1986 draft rolled around, NFL scouts knew all about him, and it was thought his name would be called late in the first round or early in the second.

A very big moment in a “local” kid’s life.

I covered maybe a dozen NFL drafts, enough to know that the draft is one of the dreariest assignments in sports. Fifteen minutes between the picks of 32 teams (27 teams, back in ’86) means the first round will last about five hours, and the second round isn’t much faster.

Collins and his friends and family gathered at the Holiday Inn in Buena Park, near Cal State Fullerton and Knott’s Berry Farm, to support him as he waited for his professional future to be determined.

NFL drafts turn into vigils for all but the first few players. The young men begin the day already over-revved, perhaps sleepless, and then they get even more nervous as players’ names come off the board. Names that are not theirs.

The tension seemed catching. Pretty soon, everyone in the suite was shifting around and heaving deep sighs.

About then is when I showed up.

I had a reputation, back then, as rarely being the first person into a press room or on the sidelines. Or in a Holiday Inn suite with 30 or 40 other people.

Which soon led to some … uh … awkward moments.

I parked the car and went inside the hotel. I approached the reception area, and I asked if I could have the number of the room where Collins was waiting. The clerk said she could not do that. Privacy rules.

I said, well, can I call his room and get permission to go up to his suite?

Again, 1980s, no cell phones.

The receptionist said “OK” and directed me to a house phone, and gave me a number.

I dialed it.

Mark Collins himself answered the phone. I knew his voice. “Hello!” he said brusquely.

I replied: “Hello, Mark, this is Paul Oberjuerge and I’m calling from the lobby.” He all but cut me off. He said: “Come up … and stay off this phone!

Well, of course. The team drafting Collins would call the phone that Collins had in his hand. My calling had occupied that single line, and everyone in the suite and dozens of people were waiting with bated breath as Collins picked up the phone. Only to find out it was me.


I soon joined a few other reporters in the Collins suite, and maybe two hours later, the phone rang. This one had nothing to do with me. It was the New York Giants, who were holding the 44th pick in the draft.

Would Mark Collins like to join them?

Pandemonium in the suite. New York City! NYC! Back slaps all around.

I no longer feel like a pariah … the guy who didn’t keep the phone line clear.

Everything worked out.

Collins earned a starting job at cornerback as a rookie, and the Giants won a Super Bowl that season (39-20 over Denver) — and a second Super Bowl in 1989 (20-19 over Buffalo) when Collins was a fourth-year veteran.

He was with the Giants for eight seasons, then did three more with Kansas City and one each with Green Bay and Denver — 13 in total. He had 27 career interceptions and was an All-Pro in 1989.

He returned to the league as an assistant coach in 2010, and put in 11 years, five with Atlanta, two with the Jets and four with Jacksonville. The most recent news I have is that he is a businessman in Olathe, Kansas. He is 57, as of this writing.

So, no, my call to the suite on draft day didn’t hurt him any. Thank goodness.


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