The first round of the 1982 NFL Draft was memorable for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but for the wrong reasons. The newest franchise in the NFL at the time just came off of their second-ever playoff appearance. At the 17th overall pick, the team had an opportunity to improve and to keep growing. But, a draft that began with excitement and opportunity ended in disaster, as a miscommunication resulting in the wrong player being drafted led to an extended period of losing that lasted nearly two decades.
That year, the Buccaneers had two players in mind on which to use their first-round pick: defensive end Booker Reese of Bethune-Cookman University and guard Sean Farrell from Penn State.
At that time, the NFL Draft was held in the New York City Sheraton Hotel. Each team had representatives at the hotel to relay to NFL officials who they’d like to draft. The officials would then take the information to then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. He would announce the pick to both the live audience and to ESPN, who was in its third year airing the draft on television.
Tampa Bay’s draft strategy was to always ride the 15-minute first-round clock to about 30 seconds before locking in their pick. When pick 17 arrived and both Reese and Farrell were still on the board, the team needed all of that time to decide which player to choose.
The Buccaneers’ war room in Tampa Bay was high on both players. Farrell proved himself to be an NFL-ready lineman from his time taking on Big Ten defenses. He would be a solid and safe pick. Reese’s skills at defensive end weren’t refined, but his athleticism was highly touted. The Buccaneers were especially impressed with the 260-pound defensive lineman running a 4.68 40-yard dash.
At the beginning of the round, director of player personnel Ken Herock messaged the team’s representative in New York for the draft, equipment manager Pat Marcuccillo. Herock told Marcuccillo to be prepared to announce either Farrell’s name or Reese’s name. During this call, the speaker phones the team used to contact Marcuccillo were fading in and out, and the background noise from the live crowd was making it difficult for him to hear. These technological hangups would foreshadow the troubles that would follow.
“The communication we had then, today you would consider it archaic,’’ Herock said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “We were on the phone, but it was hard to hear. I’m hearing Pat say, ‘Quiet, quiet, quiet, I can’t hear what he’s saying.’ And I can hear a lot of noise on the other end, in the background in New York.”
With time running out, the Buccaneers’ war room collectively decided on going with Reese, liking his upside and athleticism. Herock was in charge of calling Marcuccillo in New York and relaying the message. “Listen, Pat, you’ve got two names there,” Herock said to Marcuccillo. “We’re not going with Sean Farrell, we’re going with Booker Reese. Turn it in.”
Unfortunately, half of the message was cut out due to poor technology and background noise, so Marcuccillo only heard Farrell’s name. He handed the information over to the NFL officials, who passed it to Rozelle to announce at the podium. Sean Farrell was officially the Buccaneers’ first-round draft pick.
When the pick was announced on ESPN, the Tampa Bay officials in the war room were stunned. They couldn’t believe what they just heard. They heard the wrong name announced.
“After we turned in the pick, we’re watching a minute later on television and we find out we had selected Sean Farrell,’’ said Herock. “There was a lot of cussing, like, you know, ‘What the hell’s he doing? What’s going on here?’ That kind of stuff. But there was nothing you could do. That’s the name that was turned in, and they went with the name that was turned in. That’s the way the selection process went.’’
The team told Marcuccillo to try and plead with the NFL to get the pick retroactively changed, but to no avail.
When reality set in that Farrell was their pick, the team began work on a strategy to try and still get their guy, Reese. After the rest of the first round passed and Reese was still on the board, Tampa Bay realized there was still a chance at drafting him. Team executives began a desperate attempt at piecing together a trade to get an early pick in the second round. They were able to get the Chicago Bears to trade their second-round pick, the 32nd pick overall, for Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in 1983. With their newly-acquired pick, the Buccaneers selected Reese.
This trade would have disastrous long-term results for the franchise, leading to a constant quarterback search and losing seasons until the mid-1990’s.
At the end of the 1982 season, quarterback Doug Williams held out for more money, leading to a contract stalemate, Williams’ departure, and Tampa Bay with no quarterback. In addition, with no first-round pick in the 1983 NFL Draft, the Buccaneers missed out on the opportunity at drafting Dan Marino with the 18th overall pick.
In another move of desperation, Tampa Bay again traded their first-round pick in 1984, which would become the number one overall pick, to the Cincinnati Bengals for their backup quarterback, Jack Thompson. Thompson would only last two years with the team, playing the 1983 and 1984 seasons.
The chase for a franchise quarterback was on for the Buccaneers. Year-after-year, the team ran quarterbacks onto the field that didn’t thrive in their system. Although the likes of Steve Young and Vinny Testaverde were in Tampa Bay at different times, there was an inability to stop the losing. From 1983 to 1994, the Buccaneers posted 12 consecutive double-digit losing seasons.
In addition, Tampa Bay ineffectively drafted during this time period, notably in the first round. In the span of the 12 losing seasons, the Buccaneers passed on 11 future hall of famers in the first round. In addition, they used their first overall pick in 1986 on Bo Jackson, who, prior to the draft, showed disinterest in playing for them. When picked, Jackson instead chose to pursue professional baseball. Jackson would eventually play in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders, making the Pro Bowl in 1990.
As for the two picks involved in the 1982 draft fiasco, Farrell and Reese ended up having two completely different careers. Farrell was named to the NFL All-Rookie Team in 1982 and First Team All Pro in 1984. However, tired of the constant losing and the follies of the franchise, he wanted out of Tampa Bay.
“I know what I want for Christmas,” Farrell reportedly said in December of 1986. “I want to get the hell out of Tampa Bay. I don’t care where I’m going. I just want out.’’
Farrell would get his wish, as he was traded to the New England Patriots in the early part of 1987 for three draft picks. He would play three seasons with New England, two with the Denver Broncos, and one with Seattle Seahawks before retiring at the end of 1992.
Reese’s career wasn’t so smooth. After numerous failed drug tests, he was out of the league by 1985. In 1999, he was convicted for cocaine possession, and he was again sent to prison for a parole violation in 2004. As of 2020, his whereabouts are unknown.
There was much promise for the Buccaneers leading up to the 1982 NFL Draft. After the franchise started 0-26, they had won the NFC Central two of the three seasons prior to the draft. Everything was looking up for the team, and that draft gave them the chance to solidify themselves as winners. Instead, that draft sent the franchise into a downward spiral from which they didn’t fully recover until their Super Bowl XXXVII win in 2003.
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