There were 332 players chosen in the 1981 NFL Draft. The Eagles picked Ohio State cornerback Ray Ellis 331st. And he could not have been happier, thanks in part to Buckeyes simply sticking together.
"People had said some things to me earlier about how perhaps I would go in the middle of the draft, and I ended up going the next to last pick," Ellis says. "But I just felt blessed just to be drafted. It's a very unique thing that you can add to your résumé that very few people ever in life can say.
"When I actually got the call, it was from George Hill. Coach Hill, when I first got to Ohio State, he was the defensive coordinator. And now he was working with the Eagles as their linebackers coach. He put me on the phone with another Buckeye, which was the secondary coach, Fred Bruney. So those are two Buckeyes that called and let me know that I was going to be on their squad."
Ellis was joining a squad that had just posted a 12-4 record, won the NFC Championship, and played in Super Bowl XV.
"That part was exciting, the fact that this was a pretty good football team. But at the same time, in my mind, my first thought was, 'OK, this is one of the two best teams in the NFL. Am I really going to get a chance to make this team?' But I've always been one that I was going to give it my best regardless," Ellis says.
"It was very similar to a situation when I was being recruited in college. I went to visit that school up north (which rhymes with Fichigan) and (Head Coach) Bo Schembechler said if I were to come there, the first year, he just wanted me to concentrate on my books and don't worry much about playing. The second year, he always likes for guys to try to make the traveling squad. And the third year, try to break into the lineup. I just felt like that was putting limitations on me.
"And so with the Eagles, even though the roster was going to be pretty solid, if I went in there with the mindset of 'Hey, I'm the only defensive back they drafted,' why not do the best I can to try to contribute to the team?"
If Ellis hoped to contribute, he'd have to do so as a strong safety, a position he never played before.
"When I learned I had to play strong safety, I said, 'OK, well, I never played it before, but I know who did play it real damn good, as good as I ever saw in my life, and that's (Ohio State teammate and an All-Pro with Chicago) Todd Bell,'" Ellis says. "'I'm going to try to emulate and play the position the way Todd Bell played it those three years I saw him in college.'
"Todd had fear for nothing. He attacked every man regardless of size. And that's how I wanted to play. I wanted to play it like Todd."
Early in Training Camp, Ellis played well enough to move up the depth chart and be starter Randy Logan's backup. That, however, didn't necessarily mean he'd be a lock to stay there.
"Coach Bruney came to me and said that my name came up the night before in a meeting and they were considering me as one of the people that would be released," Ellis says. "He told me, 'I want you to knock the hell out of everybody on the field when you're out there today. Except do not touch Wilbert Montgomery.' So he gave me the green light.
"But I didn't touch anybody in practice that day. The opportunity didn't present itself. I wasn't just going to go out there and try to hurt my teammates just to get a position. I'd never do that. But I knew what he meant. If an opportunity presented itself, lay some wood and show them one of the reasons why we wanted you here. But that didn't happen. I didn't touch Wilbert, but it worked out anyway."
In 1984, Logan had concluded his 11-year career with the Eagles, and Ellis, in his fourth season, became the starting strong safety. He felt being a student of the game would help make it a smoother transition, and he was right.
Tying for second in the NFC with seven interceptions, that was the most by an Eagles defensive back since Herm Edwards had the same number of picks six seasons earlier.
"I really wanted to know what everybody was supposed to do because the more I knew about what everybody was supposed to do on defense, then you had a better chance to put yourself in a better position. But also, a better chance to help someone else out too," Ellis says.
"So I became a student of the game and I think that thoroughly helped me. In the pros, you don't get a chance to make a lot of mistakes. One play, one step, can cost you a game, can cost your team a championship. One mistake can cost you a career."
Calling Phoenix home, Ellis and his wife, Darice, who works in the Office of Sustainability for the city, have two adult children – Jamison and Gabrielle – and a granddaughter, Ava.
He is the President of Gaming and Content for Pro Sports Legacy (PSL).
"It's a digital media and entertainment company with a focus on creating original digital content," Ellis says. "One division of PSL is esports. I was really excited about the esports business when I first saw myself in a video game. Another division is creating original content sports documentaries, which we call iRemember. Every player gets to tell his own story from his perspective for digital consumption. And the remember part of iRemember is that I want guys to tell their stories while they can remember because there are some guys who are having some problems, that are struggling. For a guy to tell his own story, I think is very inspirational."