Joel Buchsbaum: a pioneer of NFL Draft coverage
With the NFL Draft approaching later this month, I would like to share the story of how I came to befriend a sportswriting mentor back in my hometown of Brooklyn, New York, who specialized in covering the draft. His name was Joel Buchsbaum, pronounced Bush-baum.
The Brooklynite was best known for his work as a contributing editor of a magazine called Pro Football Weekly, a publication which he began writing for in his Brooklyn apartment in 1978.
In the 1970s, the NFL Draft was simply a yearly gathering between football executives who selected college players while thumbing through magazines like the one Buchsbaum wrote for. Today, the annual event is now a highly anticipated prime time spectacle thanks in large part to Buchsbaum’s diligent reporting.
At the age of 20, the entrepreneurial-minded Buchsbaum wrote his first draft report in 1974. Despite not having any prior playing, coaching, or scouting experience, the determined Buchsbaum sent out his report to numerous publications in the hopes of landing a job.
He was hired for his first full-time sports writing job in 1975. Three years later, he began writing for Pro Football Weekly. There, Buchsbaum was responsible for coming up with preseason write-ups of every NFL team, and also produced scouting reports of hundreds of college prospects each year.
Slowly but surely, Buchsbaum’s long and involved scouting reports, as well as his preseason assessments, caught the eye of the NFL’s top movers and shakers. In fact, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was so impressed, he wanted to add Buchsbaum to his staff.
“I tried to hire Joel as a scout,” says the Super Bowl champion coach. “But he told me he didn’t want to work for one team, he wanted to work for all the teams.”
While the NFL’s elite inner circle was aware of Buchsbaum’s publications, very few people ever met the mysterious sports writer in person. At five-foot-eight and likely under 110 pounds, the reclusive Buchsbaum suffered from eating disorders which contributed to his malnourished appearance. As a result, he may have felt self-conscious about making public appearances.
As a high school student, I had the opportunity to meet Buchsbaum at a health club in Brooklyn. Funny enough, it was my mother who introduced me to the football writer as she happened to hear someone in the club address him by his last name.
As time went on, I would see Buchsbaum at the club on a regular basis. I made it a point to pick his brain about top football prospects of the time such as Ricky Williams and Michael Vick, almost to the point of annoyance.
Wanting to follow in Buchsbaum’s footsteps, I recorded numerous college and pro football games and came up with my own reports to share with the accomplished football writer. Once I began writing for my college newspaper and was assigned to cover the school’s football team, I would regularly share my articles with Buchsbaum.
The highlight of my brief time with Buchsbaum was when he arranged for current NFL executive Scott Pioli to give me a personal phone call. At just 17 years old, it was an incredible opportunity to hear from a high-ranking NFL official on what it takes to run a successful sports franchise.
Although Buchsbaum passed away due to natural causes in 2002 at the age of 48, I believe his impact on the NFL Draft is immeasurable. As such, I thought now would be as good a time as any to remember my old mentor who wore large bifocals and sported a nasal Brooklyn accent.