The last player the Detroit Lions took No. 6 overall was stunned to hear his name called

Detroit Free Press

The last time the Detroit Lions had the No. 6 pick in the NFL draft, they kept their plans so secret even the player they picked was surprised to get a phone call telling him he was coming to Detroit.

“Darryl Rogers called me and said, ‘Hey, congratulations, you are a Detroit Lion,’ and I was quiet on the phone,” former Lions left tackle Lomas Brown recalled this week. “And he asked me, he said, ‘Aren’t you happy?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, I am’. But I was just more stunned than anything else because I had heard nothing from Detroit. Detroit was nowhere on the radar, and they ended up drafting me and I have to say, that was the best thing I think that happened to me, going to Detroit.”

A star offensive lineman at Florida, Brown thought he would be drafted somewhere in the teens from the intelligence his agent gathered during the pre-draft process. The Philadelphia Eagles at No. 9 showed some interest. So did the Cleveland Browns, who traded their first-round pick to acquire Bernie Kosar in the supplemental draft.

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Brown never worked out for the Lions, never met anyone from the team at the NFL combine and did not hold a pro day workout.

He spent the morning of the draft at his parents’ house in Miami and watched the beginning of the first round with the three people closest to him: His mother, father and 1-year-old daughter.

Brown did not have a draft party — “I was drafted probably by 10 o’clock, so it’d probably have been too early to have a party,” he said — and the first contact he had with anyone from the Lions was when Rogers, then the team’s head coach, called right before the fourth pick to tell Brown the Lions planned to take him if the Minnesota Vikings took Chris Doleman at No. 4 and the Indianapolis Colts followed with linebacker Duane Bickett at No. 5.

“Only thing I knew about Detroit was, it was cold, they made cars and back in 1985, it was the murder capital,” Brown said. “So those were the three things I knew about Detroit when they drafted me.”

After he was picked, Brown quietly went about his day.

He and his family had breakfast together, he made time for an interview with a Detroit reporter, who dispatched a Miami-area photographer to his house to take a picture of Brown and his daughter, and he spoke to the Lions again to finalize his travel arrangements to Detroit the next day.

When Brown, wearing his best suit, arrived in Detroit, he was in for another shock: Instead of being whisked away by limousine, he spent the long ride to the Pontiac Silverdome scrunched in the front seat of an equipment staffer’s car.

“We introduce ourself to each other and I see he’s got one arm, so I’m like saying in my mind, ‘OK, I’m going to grab my own bag. I’m not going to make this guy grab my bag,’ ” Brown said. “So we walk out of the airport, McNamara or whatever the little thing was called back then, and we were just walking and walking, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ And it’s cold now. It’s April, it’s cold up there in Detroit.

“So we walk to the parking lot and in the parking lot he came to pick me up in his car and it was a straight hooptie. It was rusted out at the bottom. I forgot what make and model it was, but it was a hooptie. And I’m like. ‘Oh my God.’ I’m saying to myself, ‘Man, I’m the sixth pick in the draft and they send a one-armed equipment guy to come pick me up in this hooptie, man.’ And I’m telling you, I froze from that. Cause again, it was rusted out at the bottom. I froze from the airport all the way out to the Pontiac Silverdome, and that was my first experience with the Lions.”

Brown, now a radio analyst for the team, marvels at how much the draft has changed — for the better — in the 38 years since he went No. 6 overall. Day 3 picks throw huge draft galas. Even the most secretive teams have some contact with players. And teams cater to their high picks; The Lions, for instance, flew first-rounders Aidan Hutchinson and Jameson Williams, and part of their entourages, to town on a private jet last spring.

One of six players the Lions have taken at No. 6 overall, Brown said he’s looking forward to welcoming another member to that exclusive club this spring.

The Lions have the Nos. 6 and 18 picks in the first round, and if history is any indication, have a chance to get a special player with their first pick.

Brown played 18 NFL seasons, made seven Pro Bowls and has started more games than all but two linemen in NFL history. Two of the Lions’ other No. 6 picks, Y.A. Tittle (1948) and Alex Wojciechowicz (1938) are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame; Tittle never played for the Lions, choosing to start his pro career in the All-America Football Conference instead). Twelve Hall-of-Famers have come from that draft position overall, including Jim Brown (1957), Tim Brown (1988) and Walter Jones (1997).

And in more recent history, the sixth pick of the draft has produced some of the game’s biggest stars, players such as Justin Herbert, Jaylen Waddle, Quenton Nelson and Julio Jones.

Brown joked that he’ll have a special T-shirt made for whoever the Lions take at six, bonding the two together for eternity. And looking back, he wouldn’t change anything about a draft process he calls special now.

“It was great,” Brown said. “To be considered a player that can go that high in the draft, like I say, I had no idea I was going to go that high in the draft and just for the Lions to put that kind of trust in me, I guess they studied a lot of film on me but not to even talk to me and interview me but yet still to draft me that high, it was great. It was mind-blowing, it really was.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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