It was in the latter quarter of Round One, and agent Mike McCartney, watching the draft from his home in Chicago, was getting the itch. He had talked to enough NFL people to know that his client, Rutgers WR Mohamed Sanu, was in play.
That’s a dangerous realm to be in the sometimes brutally unkind NFL draft, where yesterday’s blue-chippers can be today’s surprising sliders. But even with a deep crop of receivers in the 2012 draft class, McCartney knew his phone — or his client’s — could be ringing at any point, with an NFL team on the other end.
When you catch 115 passes in a college season, as Sanu did in 2011, you’re not going to last too long.
So, when Sanu’s phone rang and the WR-needy Bengals were calling, it appeared a perfect match. Sanu passed on the good news to McCartney, who tweeted out in joy that his client had landed in Cincy with the 27th pick in the draft. Even though the Bengals hadn’t shown much outward interest in Sanu during the pre-draft process, McCartney didn’t think twice.
“There was certainly no reason to think anything was amiss,” McCartney told PFW late Friday night. “ESPN was about two picks behind, and I knew (from Twitter) that the Bengals were on the clock. He calls me when they are on the clock, and I said, ‘Of course.’ Everything about it was typical protocol. They call the player, not the agent.”
Only one problem, as many of you have heard and read in the past day: Someone had pulled a prank on Sanu.
“Obviously, I regret tweeting about it,” McCartney said. “But I was excited; I was overjoyed and just thrilled for him. It’s just the emotion of it all. And then you say, ‘What just happened?’ ”
The call was not from Marvin Lewis or Mike Brown. It was from a Rutgers student who had Sanu’s number and got bored.
“The kids, they are in the moment of the draft, and it drags on,” McCartney said. “So, when their phone rings, they just answer it. (Sanu) didn’t know who the people were that called. Usually it’s not the head coach; it’s a scout or whoever. Why would he ever wonder if it’s true or not?”
The Bengals had instead selected Wisconsin OG Kevin Zeitler. Sanu was hurt, but McCartney was crushed. He dialed the number after everyone pieced together what had happened, and McCartney talked to the student in question.
“I introduced myself and said, ‘Did you just call Mohamed Sanu in the last eight minutes?’ He said, 'Well, it wasn’t me, it was my friend with my phone,’ ” McCartney said. “I said, ‘Do you realize what you’ve done?’ He said, ‘Well, it’s just a prank call — sorry about that. I’ll write a letter if you want.’ It wasn’t like I was going to threaten him or anything. I wanted to make sure that was what happened. He just caused a very painful moment for a lot of people.”
McCartney barely slept, sick over what had happened to his client.
“Despicable,” he wrote in a one-word email to PFW at 1:47 a.m. CDT Friday that spoke volumes.
Sanu’s spirit took a hit, and the family couldn’t believe someone would do that to a kid who teammates said worked hard and was there for them every step of the way.
But things started picking up for the player and the agent Friday morning. Lewis caught wind of what happened and called Sanu to apologize for what had transpired. Lewis thought maybe someone at the Bengals’ facility might accidentally have called — a scout, someone in personnel — and was looking into it.
McCartney told Lewis what happened, that it was a student prank, and that he appreciated the coach’s call.
“Total class,” McCartney said.
The two talked for a few minutes more, and Lewis said, “Mike, he’s a great kid, a terrific player … and who knows? We might be calling you later tonight.”
Even though this had never happened to him in 20 years in the NFL, McCartney wanted to be sure the second time.
“I said, ‘Just so we know it’s not a prank, can you call me first?’ We laughed.”
Meanwhile, Sanu had moved on. He was upset for less than an hour Thursday night before telling McCartney that he was fine and that it wouldn’t affect him.
“Hey, I’ll live,” Sanu told McCartney.
He was even more excited once he had a night’s rest.
“(Friday) morning, he said, ‘Today is a new day. Later tonight, I am going to be an NFL player.’ Mohamed has great character and great resilience. Even his brother texted me earlier today and said, ‘Someday we’re going to laugh about it,’ ” McCartney said.
Throughout Friday, Day Two of the draft, Lewis must have kept the kid in mind. The Bengals took DT Devon Still, a slider who fell into their laps in Round Two, but by the time their pick in the third round came around, Lewis and the Bengals still needed that receiver.
And this time, it really was them on the other end of the phone. (“I did say, ‘Make sure it’s a 513 area code,’ ” McCartney said.) Lewis called, and it went right to Sanu’s voicemail, so the coach took the extra step of calling McCartney to let him know — yes, indeed — Sanu was a Bengal, drafted with the 83rd overall pick in the latter stages of Round Three.
You can’t blame Sanu if he thought the cruel joke had somehow developed legs again, but there was no ruse this time.
When Sanu’s mom, Aminata Koroma, heard that it really was the Bengals this time, she reportedly said, “What a coincidence!”
No kidding about that.
And Sanu is more than just a wideout. He played under center as a "Wildcat" quarterback and even pinch-hit as a QB in one start in 2010, throwing a 51-yard TD pass on the first play of the game. Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is going to love this kid. He can line up in the slot, isn’t particularly fast, but has a Marques Colston-like feel to his game, and he also can return punts.
“I personally think this is a terrific fit for Mohamed,” McCartney said. “At Rutgers, he was practically the entire offense. Very rarely did they have a running game; they struggled to find quarterbacks. He had several TD passes. He had been their offense for three years. They always had people over the top there. He was always double-teamed.
“Now, A.J. Green is going to get double-teamed. Jermaine Gresham is going to get double-teamed. So, for the first time in his football life, (Sanu) is going to have a chance to have some space to operate in. With a young QB like Andy Dalton, young team, it’s a terrific fit. I am overjoyed — just super-excited for him.”
We don’t know the end to this story, but it has taken a pretty cool turn. Sanu ends up — two rounds later, sure — going to the team he thought he would be joining late Thursday night. He’ll play, too; A.J. Green needs a running mate, with Jordan Shipley coming off ACL surgery and Andrew Hawkins and Brandon Tate probably not long-term answers. Sanu could replace Tate as the primary punt returner.
The joke would be on the caller, whoever he is, if Sanu pans out and ends up being a part of the Bengals’ revival under Dalton. That would be the ending that makes the story all worthwhile.
“I am thankful I have a strong player,” McCartney said. “He’ll be unfazed by it in the long run.”