Walk-on Bob Picard helped pave the NFL road at Eastern
Long before the Brandon Kaufman's, Greg Herd's, Nicholas Edwards – and now, Cooper Kupp – were making headlines and baffling defenders catching footballs at Eastern Washington, there was Bob Picard.
Over 40 years ago now, it was Picard who set the table for a legion of Eastern Eagles to move on from that little school in Cheney into professional football.
He's one of just two players in over 105 years of Eastern football to have their number – his being 84 – retired and was the first to have that done. Michael Roos' 71 is the other.
Picard played for Brent Wooten and John Massengale through very average times for the NAIA Eastern Washington State College Savages.
But by the time he graduated in 1973, Picard turned in anything but average numbers. The one-time scrawny kid from Omak, Wash. with an absolute passion for football held Eastern's career receiving record for 21 years with 166 catches for 2,373 yards and 19 touchdowns. His receiving record stood until 1993 when it was broken by Tony Brooks.
Picard was also a two-time NAIA All-American, and even a rare two-sport athlete at Eastern, playing basketball for coach Jerry Krause in 27 games, averaging three points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists.
All this from, perhaps, one of the most unlikely of college athletes who just showed up one day at practice hoping to play, Picard told 700 ESPN's Keith Osso in an interview prior to EWU's FCS playoff game with Jacksonville State University.
Picard came out of high school in 1968 weighing 160 pounds and just wanted to play football, he said.
"I didn't have a scholarship and I just walked out, a skinny kid, and I said, 'Hey, I'd like to turn out for the football team. And the guy just kind of laughed and said, 'OK, go get a uniform.'"
Just to go to Eastern, "Was a big deal," he said. "I really didn't have big aspirations, I came from a limited background and I wasn't even thinking of the possibilities."
Picard's first job on the EWSC team was holding tackling dummies, he said. He transformed that humble beginnings into a stellar four-year headline-grabbing college career. "I never expected that to happen, but it did."
He used a tremendous work ethic and some instincts to help pave the way. "I was around players who were much, much better than me so I tried to hang with them," Picard explained. "That just forced me to get better and better."
Picard began weight lifting to put some pounds on his frame, topping out a little over 200 pounds.
Picard had just missed the school's first exposure on the national stage in 1967, a 28-21 loss to Fairmont State, W. Va. in the NAIA title game.
And while he also missed being coached by the legendary Dave Holmes who left for a job at Hawaii, Picard learned from proteges' like Dick Zornes. "He just was very intimidating," Picard said.
But it was John Massengale who Picard thinks helped him the most. "He was the kind of guy who really made an impact on me and helped me," Picard said of Massengale, who was Eastern's head coach from 1971-1978.
"He believed in me even before I did, to the degree where he pulled me aside and told me 'You've really got what it takes if you want it,'" Picard said.
Massengale helped promote Picard, he said, because virtually nobody was going to the NFL from NAIA football. While others like Herm Pein in the late 1940s, Dick Nearents in the 1950s and Dave Svendsen in the mid-60s all got drafted in the NFL ahead of Picard, he was the first to stick.
"I think behind the scenes, John Massengale made calls to get people to look at me," Picard said. "I don't know what scouts would even come to Eastern."
Picard bucked the odds and was drafted in the sixth round, 132nd overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1973. With legends and future Hall-of-Famer's like Harold Carmichael ahead of him on the depth charts at wide receiver, Picard took a page out of his Eastern playbook and tried to fit in wherever he could.
"I wanted to be in there catching passes, but you gotta' make the team also," Picard said. "That means you've got to run down the field and hit somebody."
Never the star he was in college, but true to the grittiness that earned him a spot at Eastern, Picard got noticed, nonetheless.
"Of all the Philadelphia Eagles, the easiest one to find in the lockerroom is Bobby Picard," wrote Philadelphia sportswriter, Bill Lyon. "He's the one covered with all the blood. Number 82 in your program, but No. 1 in the kamikaze ranks."
Picard spent three seasons (1973-75) with the Eagles before coming full circle and being selected in the 1976 expansion draft with the Seattle Seahawks. He attended Seahawks' training camp back on the same fields in Cheney that made him famous. But Picard failed to make the team, that at one point featured Steve Largent and Ahmad Rashad.
Picard returned to Philly, played a handful of games before going to Detroit where he played the last of his 54 NFL games.
He reflected from his Philadelphia-area home some real gratitude. "A lot of things went my way," Picard said. "I was able to live out a boyhood dream and I feel real fortunate."
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.