The great Joel Buchsbaum
This has always been a very special time of the year at Pro Football Weekly. In January of 1970 — more than 40 years ago — my dad and the Marasco brothers, Carl and Pete, created independent NFL college draft analysis on the pages of Pro Football Weekly. I don't know if it scared or impressed folks around the league, but over the next few years Pete was hired away from us by the New York Jets before going on to be the personnel director in the Canadian Football League, and Carl went to work for the Bears and eventually was named the personnel director of the fledgling USFL in 1983.
Undaunted, my dad hired Palmer Hughes and ran his player rankings for a few years before discovering an eccentric but brilliant young sports fanatic in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the summer of 1978. Over the next 24-plus years, Joel Buchsbaum would grow from curiosity to cult figure to legendary status amongst NFL insiders, media and devoted football fans.
Joel's first bylines in PFW were in the late fall and early winter of '78 on some scouting pieces for the 1979 draft, and the last work my dad ever published was the very first Scout's Notebook by Joel Buchsbaum and the editors of PFW. A few weeks later my dad died very suddenly and unexpectedly, and other than my brothers and me, nobody was more devastated than Joel. But on April 2, 1979, Dan Arkush, Neil Warner and I put out the first-ever issue of PFW without my dad's touch, the first issue I ever published and the first issue featuring the rankings and scouting reports of Joel.
It was about that time that Mel Kiper was making the transition from would-be handicapper to slick TV pitchman for the NFL draft, and over the next two decades he and Joel would define their category before anyone else even joined the fray. And I'm sure even Mel would tell you, when it came to the information and the network from which it was gleaned, nobody could touch Joel.
Joel also became a member of my and the Pro Football Weekly families, a fourth Arkush brother of sorts. He was often recruited by NFL teams to join their scouting departments for significantly more money than we could offer him, but he never wavered and would always just ask me how we were going to get the next book or paper out. His eccentricities and obsession with the draft grew as fast as his legend, and even though he's been gone more than seven years now, I still miss his regular calls between 2:00 and 5:00 in the morning.
If you doubt the respect Joel earned in the industry, know that Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, Ernie Accorsi and Joel Bussert joined me at his funeral somewhere in Rockaway, N.J., less than 48 hours after the final game of the 2002 season. At a memorial service we held for Joel at the NFL Scouting Combine a month later, dozens of media, owners, scouts and coaches turned out, including Accorsi, Pioli, Jerry Angelo, Al Davis and many more, and Belichick eulogized Joel, calling him "one of his best friends in the business." There was a young PFW editor there that day, too, named Nolan Nawrocki.
Nolan had already thrown his hat in the ring for the honor and the burden of trying to carry on Joel's work. But as eccentric and obsessed as Joel was in his 100- to 120-hour workweeks, Nolan seemed fairly normal. Unlike the Alfred E. Neumanish Buchsbaum — a picture I paint with the utmost love, respect and honesty — Nolan seemed different. He actually played the game at the University of Illinois under Ron Turner and was already happily married. But something about the look and intensity in Nolan's eyes said, "Let's give it a whirl," and look where we are today.
Even the haters and our competitors will tell you that in just seven years Nolan Nawrocki has somehow moved into the rarefied air of Buchsbaum's work. That every NFL team receives multiple copies of Nolan's and PFW's draft books, magazines and newsletters — and that almost every day I get a call from one of them to marvel at how they thought we were toast after losing Joel but that somehow Nolan has picked up the ball and run with it so well — tells you everything you need to know.
Where will Nolan lead us next, and how much higher can we go? We've got a few ideas we're working on for you, and we sure do love this time of the year.