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By Kyle Stackpole

The Washington Football Team will be on the clock around 10 p.m. ET on Thursday -- kicking off a 2021 NFL Draft that includes eight picks and a load of optimism for the upcoming season and beyond. Hit on these prospects, and head coach Ron Rivera will have a roster of emerging players ready to return the franchise to championship glory.

Joe Gibbs knows plenty about hoisting Lombardi Trophies, as his teams won three Super Bowls in a 10-season span. But before all of that success, the then first-year head coach paired with former general manager Bobby Beathard compiled perhaps the best draft class in Washington history.

Notable Selections From 1981 Draft Class

Table inside Article
Round (Pick) Name Seasons w/Washington Games (Starts) Achievements Super Bowls
G Mark May 1 (20) 9 123 (115) Pro Bowler 2
G Russ Grimm 3 (69) 11 140 (114) Pro Football Hall of Fame; NFL 1980s All-Decade Team; Washington Ring of Fame; 4x first-team All-Pro 3
DE Dexter Manley 5 (119) 9 125 (113) Washington Ring of Fame, 2x All-Pro, second all-time on official sack list (97.5) 2
WR Charlie Brown 8 (201) 3 35 (24) 2x Pro Bowler 1
DT Darryl Grant 9 (231) 10 139 (109) 27.0 sacks 2
TE Clint Didier 12 (314) 6 74 (35) 1,815 yards and 19 TDs 2

NOTE: Tackle Joe Jacoby signed with Washington as an undrafted free agent in 1981. Jacoby went on to play 13 seasons for the burgundy and gold, making four Pro Bowl appearances, earning three first-team All-Pro nods and winning three Super Bowls. He is a member of the Washington Ring of Fame and the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team.

Check out Washington's full 1981 draft class, HERE.

With this year's theme centering around the 1980s to commemorate a golden era in Washington's history -- an era that inspires and fuels the franchise's future success -- Washingtonfootball.com spoke with Gibbs and several players about how that draft class came together and why it was so successful.

Origin Of 'The Hogs'



During his first-ever minicamp practice with Washington in 1981, Gibbs noticed what looked to be a player standing off to the side. It turned out to be Jeff Bostic.

"Why is he in street clothes?" Gibbs asked Beathard and a few other personnel members.

"He's holding out in a contract dispute," they responded.

Perplexed by how an undrafted, second-year deep snapper could possibly be sitting out of practice, Gibbs had a message he wanted relayed to Bostic.

"Somebody needs to go over there right now and tell Jeff that he needs to get out here on the field in the next 15 minutes, OK? We want him out here."

While Bostic was not part of Gibbs' renowned first draft class, his move to center during that minicamp anchored what would become a dominant offensive line known as "the Hogs," which included the team's top two draft picks in 1981.

The first was guard Mark May, who started 115 games for the burgundy and gold across nine seasons. Washington discovered May after his freshman season at Pittsburgh when longtime executive Charley Casserly, who was a scout at the time, came to the school to check out All-American center Tom Brzoza.

"[Casserly] goes, 'Hey big kid, can you run against Brzoza over here so we can get a fast time on him?'" May recounted to senior vice president of media and content Julie Donaldson on an episode of "Washington Football Today." Well, the "big kid," who had 30 pounds on Brzoza ended up beating him, and Casserly was intrigued. "We're going to be looking after you," May remembers Casserly telling him.

Four years later, with May listening to the draft on the radio with some teammates at Pittsburgh Stadium, he was confident Washington was going to select him ninth overall. But then the team moved back to No. 20, acquiring a second-round pick that it then flipped to the Baltimore Colts for Joe Washington.

Beathard, while pleased with the trade, was pessimistic that their top-rated offensive linemen would fall to them, so much so that he considered trading back further for a pair of second-round picks. In the end, Washington decided to stay put and was rewarded, kicking off the two-day event with one of its favorite prospects.

"I thought I was going ninth, yeah, big bucks," May said while rubbing his hands together in excitement. "They took me with the 20th pick, but at least they kept their word. Four years earlier they said they were going to draft me in the first round and they did."

Adding May was a good start, but with Washington ranking 23rd in total offense and allowing an unofficial count of 36 sacks the season before, the team needed more reinforcements. Washington had its eye on May's college teammate, center Russ Grimm, who it regarded as the 20th best prospect in the draft.

The biggest issue was that its next pick didn't come until the fifth round. It traded its second-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers the previous August for running back Wilbur Jackson; gave away its third-round selection to the St. Louis Rams in 1977 for more immediate draft capital; and shipped its fourth-round choice to the Cleveland Browns in 1979 for safety Tony Peters. (Check out all of Washington's transactions during the 1981 NFL Draft, HERE.) By the time Washington was on the clock at No. 119, Grimm would be long gone.

It was during this instance that Gibbs saw part of what made Beathard such a successful general manager.

"Bobby was very unique; he was instinctive is the best way to put it," Gibbs said. "He could be looking at the film of a player, and then in five plays, say, 'We've got to have that guy.' And then in the draft, OK, he would be so convinced that that was the player that he might trade, do anything. Sometimes he scared me. I would go, 'Bobby! Bobby!' ...When we went in that draft room, Bobby was one of the guys that was not afraid to trade, move, whatever he thought was best for the football team, so that's kind of what happened."

Beathard was sold on Grimm and went after him, sending the team's 1982 first-round pick to the St. Louis Rams for a third, two fifths and a 1982 second -- the last of which Washington used to select Vernon Dean, who started 59 games over six seasons.

But by far the best player in that trade was Grimm, the 69th overall selection who dominated his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Washington initially planned to play Grimm at center, but that changed when the team tried Bostic there during the preseason and, according to Gibbs, "Literally, I'm telling ya, that guy blocked everybody."

Russ ended up sliding next to him at left guard, while Jacoby, an undrafted free agent with his own wacky story -- Gibbs went through his entire recruiting pitch thinking he was a defensive lineman -- played alongside him at tackle, forming one of the most prestigious sides of an offensive line in NFL history.

It was behind these stalwarts and the rest of the "Hogs" that Washington transformed from a middling team to one of the most successful for the next decade.

Sleepytown Charlie Brown



Charlie Brown was asleep (yes, asleep), in his dorm room at South Carolina State when the Dallas Cowboys called him during 1981 NFL Draft. One of their main scouts informed Brown that they were interested in signing him as an undrafted free agent -- even though there was still another day of drafting.

"I'm sorry, but I will not be around," Brown said. Then he went back to sleep.

Unlike his counterparts, Brown was not anxiously awaiting a phone call letting him know he had been drafted. He knew he was an NFL-caliber player based on his skillset, production and the pedigree of the program. Former Spartans had been getting drafted nearly every year since 1966, and those selections, such as perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver John Gilliam and Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson, were making names for themselves at the next level.

Brown knew he would get picked eventually, so why stress?

"I slept through the whole draft until I got phone calls."

Brown knew Washington was a potential destination based on its intrigue during the pre-draft process.

Then wide receivers coach Charley Taylor actually came to South Carolina State to scout offensive lineman Edwin Bailey, but he ended up working out Brown, too, which is a moment he will never forget. Brown idolized Taylor to the point where he tried to wear No. 42 in college -- he ended up settling for No. 45 -- so he could not believe it when former teammate Angelo King woke him up with an urgent knock on the door and told him Taylor was waiting in the gymnasium for him. Brown impressed Taylor enough that about a month later, Beathard himself came to see him.

"This is the story that I was told that [Taylor] went back to Bobby Beathard and said, 'Hey, look, they have a receiver down there that you guys need to check out.'"

Beathard believed Brown could help kickstart Washington's offense, and he was hellbent on finding that out during what Brown called an "entirely long workout." Brown estimates Beathard, a college quarterback, threw him about 50 to 100 passes. When Brown finally thought the session was completed, Beathard asked him to catch some more. Brown said he did not drop a single one.

charlie-brown-joe-gibbs

Brown was confident in his abilities and so was Beathard, because with the 201st overall pick, Washington drafted the 5-foot-8, 182-pound wideout who would rack up 92 catches for 1,433 yards and six touchdowns in three healthy seasons with the team. By far his most memorable performance came in Super Bowl XVII, when he led the team with six catches for 60 yards and caught the championship-clinching touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

"That's a typical example, I think, of Bobby Beathard being sold on somebody," Gibbs said. "To get Charlie there in the eighth round, and of course that's the 201st pick, and he becomes a Pro Bowl player. It's an example, I think, when you get to these lower rounds, how Bobby instinctively, with the scouting staff he had, he had people that he was going after all the way to the 12th round."

Brown remembers Beathard calling him and telling him Washington had just drafted him. Then he put Gibbs on the phone, followed by offensive coordinator Dan Henning.

"I told them all thank you," Brown said.

"And Bobby goes, 'No, thank you.'"

'What Do You Want With Him?'



Gibbs traveled out to Portland State to watch quarterback Neil Lomax when he noticed a hulking tight end walking towards the practice field.

"He's built as all get-out, so I said to myself, 'Well, I'm sure he probably can't run,'" Gibbs recalled. "And so we timed him and I think he ran like a 4.6 or 4.5 [40-yard dash], and so I go, 'Oh my gosh.' And I said, 'Well he probably can't catch.' And he caught everything in the workout."

The mysterious pass-catcher was Clint Didier. He knew Lomax would be a "magnet" for NFL scouts, so he told Lomax that whenever he needed someone to throw to, he would be available. Didier referred to himself as a "skinny wide receiver" at Portland State before "hitting the weight room hard" after his senior year to bulk up to about 235 pounds. And it just so happened that on that day, Didier had one of his best workouts ever.

"It was pretty hilarious because we got done working out, and Neil walks up to Joe and he goes, 'Well, Coach, you want me to run some 40s for ya?' And Joe's looking at his paper and goes, 'Nahh, I've seen enough. Neil, thank you very much, but Clint, I'd like you to run a couple 40s.'

"Boy I perked up then and I'm like, 'WOW! You want me to run? I must have made an impression.' I was jacked. I was so jacked up."

The way the next part of the story was told to Didier, Gibbs was at the airport afterwards and called Beathard seven times. Finally, Beathard picked up and began the following conversation (in Didier's words):

"OK, Joe, is Neal that good?"

"No [not him]! Who's this Clint Didier kid?"

"Who?"

"Clint Didier! Who's this kid?"

"Just a minute," Beathard answered, grabbing his scouting book and sifting through the pages until he found the right one. "Clint Didier: 6-5, 218, slow, white kid. What do you want with him?"

"He's gonna be by H-back," Gibbs responded.

Sure enough, after a severely pulled hamstring sidelined Didier for his entire rookie campaign, the 12th-round pick (314th overall) appeared in 74 games for Washington (35 starts) and hauled in 129 catches for 1,815 yards and 19 touchdowns in six seasons.

In the team's rout of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII, his eight-yard touchdown catch from Doug Williams capped one of the most prolific offensive quarters in Super Bowl history.

clint-didier-super-bowl

Soon after being drafted, Didier remembers everyone telling him he would have been better off signing somewhere as an undrafted free agent. That way, he would have been able to shop his services around for the most money.

But Didier did not look at it that way at all; "Are you crazy?" he remembers telling them. Not only was Didier playing for his dad's favorite team -- he loved the "Over the Hill Gang" -- but he quickly realized Gibbs had the franchise headed in the right direction.

"It was destiny," Didier said of joining Washington. "God's hand was involved with this. I mean, you could tell -- Joe Gibbs, very religious man -- and I just truly appreciate him as a person but more as a leader and a man of god and his faith and his direction, his tutelage and patience. The guy...was awesome. I couldn't have asked for a better coach."

The Start Of Something Special



The 1981 draft class served as the foundation that supported winning seasons, playoff appearances and world titles. But what made this group so successful?

For one, it was talented. Gibbs deflected most of the credit to Beathard and his personnel department, but Gibbs and his staff put these players in positions to thrive.

Second, it had the right mentality. An 0-5 start landed Gibbs on the hot seat and bluntly introduced the players to the cut-throat nature of the NFL. Either they respond, or they may be out of a job.

"It's always darkest before the light," Didier said, "and it was dark at that time. We heard Joe Gibbs was on the chopping block and we heard that Joe Theismann was going to get traded, and that fear factor can grab a hold of ya, and it can ruin the day. Or, it can reemphasize and get you focused on how to get out of it."

The 1981 squad embraced the latter philosophy, winning five of its next six games and finishing the season 8-8. The next year, with May and Grimm manning the offensive line, Brown leading the team in receiving, Dexter Manley and Darryl Grant combining for nine sacks and Didier growing into his role, Washington completed the strike-shortened season with an 8-1 record before winning its first-ever Super Bowl. The year after that, it finished 14-2 and went back to the Super Bowl before falling to the Oakland Raiders.

Having experienced so much success early in their careers, Gibbs, his coaching staff and the 1981 drafts picks set the standard for what was required to be the best. Forty years later, Washington is hoping its coaches, young core and impending 2021 draft class can build towards a the same type of excellence.

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