It was the greatest day of his young life. It was also the worst. For Temple’s Paul Palmer, NFL Draft Day conjures up some strong memories.
“I was planning on hanging with my coaches and my boys in Philadelphia,” said Palmer about the 1987 NFL Draft, which began exactly 29 years ago today.
Palmer’s plans abruptly changed when his great grandmother Frances Palmer, the woman who raised him, had fallen ill and had been hospitalized. The former Owls running back, who had finished second to Miami’s Vinny Testaverde in the Heisman Trophy race, decided that he and a group of his closest friends would head back to his hometown of Potomac, Maryland, for the draft.
Ma Frances, as she was known, was a loving woman who was the difference between a life of trouble and a college football scholarship. Palmer would attend Temple where he would land on everyone’s radar after a junior season in which he rushed for 1,516 yards and nine touchdowns. He followed it up with a record-setting 1986 season carrying the football 346 times for 1,866 yards and 15 scores.
What he did not carry that season was the knowledge that his rock, the woman that provided him the guidance he so desperately needed, had suffered a heart attack. Ma Frances made sure that family members kept her condition secret from the then Temple senior. It was just like her.
With a house full of family and friends, Palmer would learn on April 28, 1987, that he was the first pick of the Kansas City Chiefs. It was one of the great moments of his life. He would head to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda with a few friends and a young CBS sports correspondent named James Brown, who had been working on a story on the Temple running back. Palmer was able to speak with Ma Frances and remembers well one of his aunts telling his great grandmother, “the Chiefs got Boo, Ma!” Palmer had earned the affectionate Boo-Boo moniker from Ma Frances many years prior. With his draft day selection, he had earned a job in the National Football League.
After visiting with Ma Frances, Palmer, and his friends returned home. It was just a few hours later that his aunts followed. When they entered the house, the newly drafted Palmer knew that the woman who had raised him was gone. Ma Frances had passed away just hours after learning that her Boo, Paul Palmer, was the 19th pick in the 1987 NFL Draft.
“I remember that she had said that she just wanted to be around long enough to see me get drafted,” Palmer said of his great-grandmother. “And she did.”
From the high of being an NFL first-round draft pick to the low of losing someone so close, what a day it was 29 years ago today. You can read more about Palmer and what he has been doing with his life after football in the Summer 2015 issue of Coach and Player Magazine.