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TDBH:Bengals begin selection of 40 players in expansion draft

Posted Jan 14, 2018

This Day in Bengals History - January 15, 1968


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. _ Bengals founder Paul Brown, who almost didn’t sign his franchise agreement when he got a good look at the mechanics of the AFL expansion draft to stock his new team, emerges from the first round today to meet the press with a smile. “I don’t see how we can lose with what we got, fellows,” he says before laughing. With each team protecting 29 of their 40 players for the first round and then allowed to protect two more players, the observation is made that the Bengals are getting the 33rd and 34th players on the roster with second- and third-round picks. The draft is broken up over two days with the Bengals picking players from the East teams today and the West tomorrow. The names won’t be made public until Wednesday because, according to league sources, time is needed to contact the players. But some cynics in the sporting press believe if the names are announced at once it keeps leverage away from the players in contract negotiations. One thing is for sure. The Bengals won’t win the Super Bowl off this draft. Pat Harmon of The Cincinnati Post & Times-Star reports over the next few days that, “Most of the big names given the Bengals are hurt, or feeling indifferent about pro football. Some of them have trouble with their coaches, their teammates or front office.”

When the dust clears, eight of the 40 make the Bengals’ regular starting lineup for their first season with the best pickups probably linebacker Frank Buncom and left tackle Ernie Wright. Wright is just 28, but a solid player for eight seasons and Buncom is a sixth-year player in the AFL’s East-West All-Star Game. Newspaper reports have Wright mulling retirement and Buncom playing out his option and the Chargers apparently don’t think they can sign him. But Brown sees virtually no skill players available. He doesn’t take a quarterback and the running backs he takes are injured, old, or at the end. The Bengals select Bills running back Bob Burnett, the 1966 AFL Rookie of the Year. He’s available because he suffers a devastating knee injury back in November and he’ll end up carrying only five more times in his career for the 1969 Broncos. They also take Patriots running back Joe Bellino, Navy’s Heisman Trophy winner that has carried only 30 times in his career as primarily a returner. He’ll never play again. Another big-name pickup and that’s all is Broncos running back Cookie Gilchrist, the AFL’s fourth all-time leading rusher. But he carries just 10 times last season, turns 33 in a few months, and won’t play in a game again.

Still, the Bengals find productive players off good teams like linebacker Sherrill Headrick and defensive backs Bobby Hunt and Fletcher Smith of the 9-5 Chiefs, defensive tackle Andy Rice of the 9-4-1 Oilers, and defensive end Jim Griffin of those 8-5-1 Chargers. When word leaks tomorrow, the lead headline in Wednesday’s edition of The San Diego Union blares, “Bengals take 5 Chargers.” But Brown has a definite plan as he talks to the writers today. He’d prefer to talk about the NFL-AFL Draft in two weeks instead of this one. “We’re trying to think about this in terms of what we look like in three to four years,” he says. “You should get three blue chips a year out of the colleges. We’re not going to give away our first and second round choices for older football players. By the time you do that practice and buy yourself in cheap, you mortgage your future. We’re not about to do that.” When Brown coaches the improbable 1970 Bengals to the AFC Central title, they line up for the play-off game with three starters from the expansion draft: Wright, Fletcher Smith and Broncos guard Pat Matson. “There are some things you can’t hurry in life,” says Brown today as he heads back into the room. “Building a football team is one of them.”

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