I had a thought-provoking inquiry recently by Tex Noel, the Executive Director of the Intercollegiate Football Researchers Association. Tex was working on a massive project in which he had compiled a list of all First Round Draft Choices, from every professional football league that held a draft (AFL, NFL, AAFC, WFL, USFL, XFL and CFL – the latter only when a player from the United States was drafted). Tex was inquiring about Billy Cannon, the highly touted Houston Oilers draft choice from 1960. His question was how Cannon should be categorized, as a first round draft choice, or as a territorial draft choice.
I have to admit that I didn’t know the correct answer off the top of my head, so I turned to one of my favorite AFL books, Houston Oilers; The Early Years by Kevin Carroll. I found the answer on page six, and quoted the following passage for Tex…
On November 22, 1959, the AFL conducted its first player draft. Working together, John Breen and Los Angeles General Manager Frank Leahy wrote the names of the eight best college players for each position and tossed them into a hat. The owners then drew for their own order in the selection process. Bud Adams drew the fourth position. The Oilers’ first draft pick was the University of Cincinnati quarterback Jacky Lee.
Each team was allotted one territorial choice. The Oilers selected Louisiana State University halfback Billy Cannon.
The other players selected in the AFL’s territorial draft were George Izo – New York Titans, Richie Lucas – Buffalo Bills, Monty Stickles – Los Angeles Chargers, Don Meredith – Dallas Texans, Gerhard Schwedes – Boston Patriots, Dale Hackbart – Minneapolis (ultimately Oakland Raiders) and Roger LeClerc – Denver Broncos.
As to how one would document Cannon’s draft position… I think the best way would be to list the territorial picks at the top of the draft list, with a note describing this one-time occurrence, and that Cannon (and the other territorial choices) did not actually fall into a normally ranked order.