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Golden Nuggets: Cal Running Back John Tuggle Defies the Odds as 1983's Mr. Irrelevant

Inspired by CalBear81's profile on John Tuggle, Grantland produced a short documentary on how 1983's "Mr. Irrelevant" made a major impact on the team before his career was tragically cut short.


In anticipation of next week's NFL Draft, Grantland has a new short in their 30 for 30 documentary series featuring Cal running back John Tuggle (hit the source link to watch the video).

The latest film is The Irrelevant Giant, from directors Shaun Silva and Don Lepore. In 1983 the New York Giants were a team in flux. Rookie coach Bill Parcells was hired to rebuild the once-prominent franchise. One of the resources at his disposal was the last pick in the 1983 NFL draft — a pick commonly known as "Mr. Irrelevant." That year Parcells's staff chose John Tuggle, a running back out of Cal, who would not only defy the odds and make the team, but also change the lives of both player and coach.

Now here's a fun fact: this documentary's production is partly due to CGB's resident historian CalBear81. Her spectacular piece written last year inspired Shaun Silva and Don Lepore to make this piece on Tuggle. Here's more on Tuggle's time at Cal from CalBear81's article.

But, of course, the most memorable event of the 1982 season was the Big Game. Although everyone remembers that game because of The Play, it was actually a very close, exciting, and hard-fought game long before those wild last four seconds. John Tuggle had an excellent game, rushing for 97 yards on 28 carries to help keep the game close, allowing The Play to happen. A few months later, in Ron Fimrite's terrific Sports Illustrated article, "The Anatomy of a Miracle," John Tuggle described The Play as, "an Act of God."

Cal's 1982 Big Game victory ended Stanford's last chance to get to a bowl game under their senior quarterback, John Elway, and gave Elway only one Big Game victory in his four years at Stanford. Tuggle, by contrast, had played in the Garden State Bowl and had been able to lift The Axe over his head in triumph three times during his four years at Cal. And while Elway famously complained that The Play had "ruined my last game as a college player," it was a grand send-off from Berkeley for Tuggle and the other Cal seniors, who had fought through some dreadful seasons as Golden Bears.

As the NFL draft approached in the spring of 1983, it was generally assumed that John Tuggle would be picked in the middle-to-late rounds. But on the first day of the (then un-televised) NFL draft, Tuggle waited hour after hour for the call that would tell him he had been selected. The day ended without a call. The big news that day was that Stanford's John Elway had been selected as the #1 pick overall by the Baltimore Colts, even though he had loudly proclaimed that he would refuse to play in Baltimore. The call to Tuggle did not come until very, very late on the second day of the draft. Just when it looked like he would remain undrafted, Tuggle got the call from the New York Giants. He had been selected as the last pick of round 12, the #335 pick overall. John Tuggle was "Mr. Irrelevant."

This was only part of the story. Check out the eleven-minute documentary to learn more about his tragically brief time with the Giants. Many thanks to CalBear81 and the Grantland Staff for helping share this remarkable story.



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