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Finding the hidden gems

The Dallas Cowboys have always been innovators in the NFL. From Tom Landry's flex defense, to popularizing the shotgun formation, to using computers extensively in gameplans and scouting. But sometimes you just get lucky. Like this anecdote about European kickers in the NFL.

One day more than 30 years ago, a salesman walked into the offices of the Dallas Cowboys hoping to unload some artwork.
He left without success, but he unknowingly had sold the Cowboys on another idea.

"This guy had been a soccer coach in the Balkans," said Gil Brandt, then the Cowboys' director of player personnel. "He was saying how these athletes in Europe could kick a ball 80 meters."

Within weeks, Brandt was on a plane to Europe, where he found and signed a kicker in Vienna -- Toni Fritsch, who ended up spending 10 years in the NFL.

That salesman should've dumped the artwork business, become an agent and lined up some soccer players for tryouts. I guess Brandt said `thanks a lot, we don't need any artwork' and pushed him out the door before booking his plane trip to Europe.

Of course today it's a lot harder to find any undiscovered talent that might be able to make an NFL team. Not with 4,317,986 websites covering prospects for the draft. Still, Brandt isn't giving up on the idea of being able to find hidden talent.

Brandt believes teams can still discover hidden talent by being innovative, like his old Cowboys. In the '70s, he sent scouts to the annual convention of college basketball coaches to figure out if there were any athletes whose hard-court talents might translate to helmets and pads.

That's how the Cowboys turned Cornell Green, a basketball star at Utah State, into a five-time Pro Bowl defensive back.

I'm thinking Japan and Sumo wrestlers. Line one of those suckers up at NT in the 3-4 defense and see what happens. Who's with me?