Cooks’ honor as Mississippi’s highest draft pick may soon disappear

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 30, 2004

[3/30/04]Johnie Cooks has the distinction as the highest NFL draft pick ever in the state of Mississippi.

A linebacker at Mississippi State, Cooks was chosen second overall by the Baltimore Colts in 1982.

But on April 24, he may lose that distinction as many experts predict that Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning will be selected as the top pick in the NFL Draft.

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“The thing is that when he does (get picked), my name will be mentioned,” Cooks said with a laugh. “That’s the best part about it.”

By that time, Cooks will have a new honor that Manning may not see for a long time. Cooks, 45, will be one of eight inductees into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in Vicksburg on Friday. Manning is scheduled to be in attendance.

In his three seasons as a starter, Cooks led Mississippi State to three winning records. During his senior campaign, he led the team with 78 solo tackles, 45 assists and 11 sacks.

“Johnie’s intangible leadership quality was so strong that he literally bound the team together,” said Mike McEnany, who played on defense with Cooks for Mississippi State. “When he was in the middle there was such a security blanket for the defense.”

McEnany said Cooks fits the bill perfectly for the MSHOF.

“I can’t think of a better guy that represents the good of the state of Mississippi,” he said. “Johnie always had a love of life to go with his rural upbringing, and goodness in his heart.”

Cooks was twice named a first-team All-SEC player and twice a second-team All-American during his time at Mississippi State.

“For a guy his size, the speed he had was abnormal. He was a great athlete,” said Glen Collins, who was selected 24th overall in the same draft as Cooks to account for the first time two Mississippi State players were taken in the first round.

In a 10-year NFL career, Cooks played linebacker for the Colts, New York Giants and Cleveland Browns. While with the Giants, he was a member of the Super Bowl XXV champions that defeated the Buffalo Bills 20-19 on Jan. 27, 1991.

“Man for man, we may not have been the most talented group playing at the time,” Cooks said. “We weren’t the Bears of ’86. We weren’t considered in that group, but we were so close and played off each other so good, it made us look good. We just believed in each other.”

In one of the most memorable Super Bowls in history, the Giants pulled off the win when the 47-yard field goal attempt by Buffalo’s Scott Norwood sailed wide right as time expired.

“I was standing next to Coach (Bill) Parcells and he told me, He can’t kick off grass.’ He just knew the guy wasn’t going to make that kick,” Cooks said.

The memory of that game still stands vividly in Cooks’ mind. He even remembers Whitney Houston singing the national anthem at a time of heightened patriotism because of the conflict with Iraq.

“I nearly fainted coming out of the dressing room,” Cooks said. “There was so much electricity. When I walked out on the field for the first time during warmups, I got wobbly in the legs.”