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Walt Patulski: Draft-bust label made him feel like 'a prisoner on death row'

For 43 years, Walt Patulski's NFL experience haunted him. The coach he could neither satisfy nor understand was a voice in his head, driving Patulski to prove his worth as a father, a businessman, a public servant.

The Bills drafted Patulski first overall in 1972. He had a decent career, but over time his name became synonymous with failure. His name often appeared on draft-bust lists, lumped in among the dregs of any sport, not merely football.

Thing was, Patulski wasn't all that bad.

In November, after Rex Ryan jokingly used Patulski's name while crashing a media conference call with Patriots receiver Julian Edelman, Patulski sat down with me at The Buffalo News offices for a story that finally allowed him to explain himself, finally to defend himself.

He has been wrongfully labeled, and on Wednesday he joined "The Tim Graham Show" on Sports Radio 1270 The Fan to discuss how dragging that anchor has impacted his life.

"It felt like I was a prisoner on death row after some quick trial and sentencing," Patulski said.

You can listen by clicking on the link below or watch a replay of our Facebook Live stream.

Patulski's career isn't reviewed favorably -- or fairly -- because the 66-year-old Notre Dame legend and Lombardi Trophy winner played a position that didn't produce numbers in his era. Sacks weren't an official stat back then.

When you Google Patulski, you won't see that, despite a contentious relationship with Bills coach Lou Saban and his arrival on a sorry defense, Patulski led the team with five sacks as a rookie in 1972 and recorded a career-high seven sacks.

The story might have helped. Patulski last week gleefully showed me an story that ranked all 50 top selections of the NFL-AFL draft era.

Patulski was 41st. The writeup included the rare context that his career was misunderstood.

"Not a lot of people can say that they were the No. 1 draft choice, good, bad or indifferent," Patulski said. "I really feel like regardless of what anybody ever says about me, I've made my mark.

"I've walked on the moon, so to speak, and no one can ever take that away."

Patulski and I encountered a later twist while writing my November story. Turns out Barbara Saban, the late coach's daughter, is a psychotherapist with insight and qualifications to help Patulski heal.

The burden continues to lift.

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