Lee Folkins may be the most reluctant-to-be-drafted player in the history of the NFL.
The University of Washington tight end didn’t even know he’d been selected in the sixth round of the 1961 NFL draft until a reporter called and asked him if he was excited to play for Green Bay.
“I told him it didn’t make any difference to me because I went to school to be an engineer and I wasn’t planning on playing football,” Folkins said when I spoke to him yesterday.
A few days after he heard from the sportswriter, Folkins got a call from Packer offensive line coach Bill Austin.
“He called me up and said they had drafted me and they wanted to visit me. I told him I went to school to be an engineer, not to play football.”
Austin persisted and eventually convinced the college senior to fly down to Los Angeles to be Austin’s guest at the East West Shrine game.
“But, I told him I couldn’t leave until after classes were over on Friday,” Folkins said.
At breakfast the following morning, the coach introduced Folkins to several Pro Bowl players, also in town for the game. As he shook hands with players like Jim Brown and Frank Gifford, Folkins started to re-think his post-college plans.
Austin invited him back to his room, where he offered him a contract of $9,000 with a signing bonus of $500.
“I started doing the math,” Folkins said. “If I sign this contract, I’ll get $9000 plus $500 for six months work, then I could go be an engineer and earn another $10,000. Just by signing the contract I assumed I made the team. I was that naive.”
Folkins didn’t realize until he arrived at rookie camp in July that at least 20 other rookies plus several free agents would be vying with the veterans for a spot on the then 36-man roster.
“I thought, ‘Whoops. What did I get myself into?’” he said.
Eventually, six players from that draft made the 1961 Packers roster — Herb Adderley, Ron Kostelnik, Ben Davidson, Lee Folkins, Nelson Toburen and Elijah Pitts. Davidson, who played the bulk of his career for Oakland, was actually drafted by the New York Giants and traded to Green Bay prior to the start of the season.
The Packers went on to win the NFL championship in 1961 and Folkins, who played in the NFL through the 1965 season, went on the become a very successful engineer.
He still stays in touch with his good friend Toburen, and remembers his time with the Packers very fondly. Because his wife stayed in Seattle that first season, Folkins hung out with the single guys.
“I spent a lot of time with Herb Adderley and Elijah Pitts,” he said.
“The team was about winning and to win you had to be a cohesive unit,” he said. “It didn’t matter where you were from, what you looked like, what race you were. If you didn’t fit you were gone and if you fit in you were part of the team and that’s the way it was.”