No. 4: NFL Draft

Hope for the upcoming pro football season begins with the NFL Draft, and the buildup to the annual stockpiling of college talent is highly anticipated every April. Fans of all 32 NFL teams spend weeks poring over lists of projected picks (or mock drafts) in an effort to become the most knowledgeable amateur draft expert in their neighborhood.

However, the story of this year’s No. 1 pick wasn’t just about exceptional football skills.

Scouts kept telling Sam Bradford that he could be the top overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft. He had just won the Heisman Trophy and led the University of Oklahoma to the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) championship game. Despite the loss, what else was there to accomplish? Obviously, he should forgo another year in college to turn pro, right?

Instead, Bradford decided to return to Norman and finish business. It didn’t work out too well. In the season’s opening game, he was sacked by a Brigham Young University defender and injured his shoulder. He returned a few weeks later but got hurt again. Oklahoma went just 8-5. This wasn’t how he envisioned his return.

Bradford had followed his heart by staying in college. He’d experienced the worst nightmare of every potential high draft pick: getting injured and putting his professional career in jeopardy.

Rather than despair, Bradford attacked his rehabilitation with the same relentlessness he does a defensive secondary. He did everything he could to rebuild his shoulder. As soon as he was healthy he dedicated himself to preparing for the NFL, with hours and hours of extra throwing and film sessions.

And on the evening of April 22, 2010, Roger Goodell called Sam Bradford’s name first. He was selected by the St. Louis Rams as the No. 1 pick of the NFL Draft. It was a testament to perseverance. “A dream come true,” Bradford glowed.

It got even better. Bradford took over as the Rams’ starting quarterback in the preseason and hardly looked back. He was put in charge of a team that had won six games combined over the previous three seasons, and by midseason he had them in first place.

–Dan Wetzel