John Wayne ‘of Fort Apache State’ Was Selected in the Final Round of 1972 NFL Draft at 64-Years-Old

by Will Shepard

The Atlanta Falcons have not had much success over the years. But, at the draft in 1972, the Falcons hoped that things might turn around for them. So, they drafted a little-known football player by the name of John Wayne.

Even though his highlight tape was negligible, his career highlight at the time was astounding. The franchise at the time was only six years old. But that didn’t stop them from drafting the 64-year-old John Wayne.

While the 1972 seventeenth-round draft pick might seem like it came out of nowhere, it actually didn’t. John Wayne, in the late 1920s, won a scholarship to play football at USC. He was 6-foot-4-inches and was an offensive lineman during his time.

Flash forward almost five decades to round 17 of the NFL draft. The Falcons coach at the time, Norm Van Brocklin, was caught on tape giving a passionate speech to his staff. He yelled, “Do we want the roughest, toughest s.o.b. in the draft?!” Of course, his staff said they did. So, Van Brocklin made the call to the NFL headquarters and said, “Atlanta picks John Wayne of Fort Apache State.”

Unfortunately, for the Falcons and John Wayne, of Fort Apache State, the pick was disallowed.

John Wayne’s football career at USC looked incredibly promising. He was reportedly an exceptionally talented player, as evidenced by his full ride to USC. However, his football career ended prematurely. The soon-to-be-famous actor was bodysurfing and broke his collar bone. The injury ended his football career and forced him to drop out of school to make money.

‘John Wayne of Fort Apache’ Had a Deep Love of Football

Even though the 431st pick was disallowed, the story will live on in NFL lore forever. Imagine a 64-year-old actor suiting up for an NFL game. That’s enough to make even Tom Brady quake in his boots.

But, after Pete Rozelle disallowed the pick, the Falcons quickly regrouped. The team took Bill Holland, a running back from USC. Unfortunately, the running back never played in the NFL. So perhaps the NFL should have allowed the original pick to go through.

This is not the only connection that the famous actor has with the NFL. There is a famous quote that Vince Lombardi is said to have come up with. The quote reads, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” However, the great NFL coach actually stole it from John Wayne. The actor first said the line in 1953 in “Trouble Along the Way.” Interestingly, though, he was playing a football coach.