Candace Buckner: Idaho's Cowan awaits NFL call

Candace Buckner: Commentary

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Bobby Cowan had just settled in after more than 20 hours on the road when his iPhone rang.

On Thursday, it was only a reporter. But later this weekend, Cowan hopes that it will be his future NFL employer on the other line.

"I'm going to be relaxing," the former Evergreen High football standout said about his plans in Cave Creek, Ariz. "Make sure I got my phone and just hanging out with my family."

Cowan went to the University of Idaho as a walk-on punter and worked to become a potential 2013 National Football League draft pick. So, on Thursday, his waiting game began with the start of the three-day selection process.

Currently huddled at his family's vacation home in the kind of town that Johnny Cash would sing about, Cowan anticipates becoming the next Vancouver-area football star to get picked. It's an exclusive club with the last member, Mountain View's Michael Roos, joining in 2005 when the Tennessee Titans made him a second-round selection. Many years ago, one of the club's charter members had to listen to a Palo Alto, Calif., AM radio station to learn his fate.

"It's a completely different experience nowadays," said former Fort Vancouver High quarterback Steve Dils, who was drafted in 1979 after his standout senior season at Stanford. "One, ESPN wasn't around."

Want proof that the NFL controls your heart and soul? Last year, coverage of the first-round made NFL Network ratings history with an average of 1.4 million viewers.

In 2010, more people tuned in to watch big dudes in suits bear hug the NFL commissioner than they did the NBA playoffs.

But 34 years ago, Dils didn't have cable television -- and actually, nobody did. He didn't gather around his family for a big celebration, either.

Although a record-setting senior season at Stanford made Dils one of the best quarterbacks on the board, his draft-day experience was a low-key one. He sat alone inside his off-campus apartment, waiting for the voice on the radio to announce those anticipated words: San Francisco has selected quarterback Steve Dils.

About a week prior to the draft, Dils ran into his former college coach, Bill Walsh, who had moved on to the San Francisco 49ers. Coach Walsh asked Dils if he had an agent. Dils said no. Try imagining the fourth-rated college quarterback today entering the draft without someone to broker his rookie contract -- maybe that's why Dils only got $30,000 his first year. But back then, agents weren't necessary, and that day Walsh told Dils that he didn't need one anyway, because the 49ers intended to take him in the third round.

However, Walsh never revealed that he had fallen in love with some quarterback out of Notre Dame.

" 'The 49ers have taken quarterback Joe Montana,' " Dils said, recalling the announcement he heard over the radio. "I said, 'What!?' I can't say that was a bad decision on Bill's part."

Dils ended up with the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth round and played a decade in the league before retiring to the world of real estate. And there's a good reason why Dils may not be reminiscing while watching draft coverage this weekend — he's currently soaking up the sun with his wife in Hawai'i.

"I don't follow it the way some people do," Dils said about the draft.

But back in Cave Creek, all the Cowans will be waiting — dad, mom, his kid brother and even his big sister who's visiting from Atlanta. Even so, Bobby Cowan won't stay glued to the television. He knows his history, and punters don't normally go in the early rounds. Last year, 70th pick Bryan Anger became the highest selected punter since 1995, still Cowan doesn't expect to hear his name until Saturday, the final round.

The Indianapolis Colts could call, maybe even the NFC defending champion 49ers. Representatives from both teams have already reached out, making sure that they have Cowan's working cell phone number and a place where, if necessary, they could send him a contract.

Hopefully there's a fax machine somewhere in that little cowboy desert town.

"Excited and definitely anxious," Cowan said on Thursday. "We all just wanted to watch the draft together (as a family) and being a punter, will I necessarily get drafted? I don't know. Who knows? I think I have a very good shot of being a free agent. I just want to get a shot."

Candace Buckner covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. She can be reached at 360-735-4528 or email at candace.buckner@columbian.com. Her Twitter handle is @blazerbanter.