Meet George Amundson, Iowa State’s only first round pick

George Amundson, Iowa State’s last first round pick in the NFL Draft, has been enjoying life in Houston and continues to watch the Cyclones. (Courtesy of Iowa State Athletics Communications)

Matt Belinson

George Amundson, Iowa State’s only first round pick in the NFL Draft, has lived a memorable life full of gratifying experiences.

Amundson was selected in the first round with the 14th overall pick in the 1973 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers. To this day, that was the last first round pick the Cyclones have had.

He worked at Gulf Systems for 28 years near the Houston area, selling tools and polyester strapping. Now he is mostly retired.

These days, he spends his time with loved ones in Bellaire, Texas, with his wife, Terry, their three daughters and their eight grandchildren (all under the age of 10).

But don’t be mistaken. He’s not out of the loop when it comes to his Cyclones.

“It’s been great getting to watch them perform,” Amundson said. “It’s been a joy to watch.” 

Amundson watches as much Iowa State football as he can and has an ongoing text group with former players, including the offensive line that blocked for him.

In 2021, he and his former teammates celebrated the 50th anniversary of their team taking Iowa State to its first bowl game appearance in the 1971 Sun Bowl.

Amundson caught up with the Iowa State Daily to reminisce about his playing days as a Cyclone and in the NFL. He also gave advice to Cyclones entering the NFL.

Pre-draft/NFL Draft process

After the football season, Amundson attended multiple college postseason all-star games similar to those today. He went to the East/West Shrine Bowl and then flew to Hawaii for the Hula Bowl. 

At the end of the summer, he played in the “College All Star Game.”

The opponent? The Super Bowl Champions that season: The Miami Dolphins.

“It was definitely a fun experience,” Amundson said.

Outside of the All-Star Game, back then, Amundson said players were paid to play in the Senior Bowl. But if you took the money, you were deemed ineligible and couldn’t continue to play other collegiate sports.

And that wasn’t going to work for him. Amundson threw discus at Iowa State and chose not to go to Senior Bowl.

He doesn’t recall pre-draft workouts or extensive one-on-ones with teams that are customary now. No social media posts alerting people of your decision.

In truth, he wasn’t sure who would take him in the 17-round draft.

“You didn’t have to declare anything,” Amundson said. “After all, freshman couldn’t play varsity football. After three years, there was no declaration; you were just available for teams.”

Word of mouth was all he had to go off of when it came to the draft, and even that was spotty at times.

Was there any big elaborate TV marathon like today? Any mock draft specials or big boards aired nearly 24/7?

“Heck no, it wasn’t on TV,” Amundson said. “Back then, it would have been boring TV.”

The day of the draft, Amundson remembers how he found out he was going to be taken in the first round.

“I’m sitting in my apartment on Lincoln Way and then the phone rings,” Amundson said. “I pick it up and I hear, ‘This is Sid Gilman of the Oilers. We just took you 14th overall, we’ll be in touch.’” 

But with his track season still underway, Amundson’s training was focused on his discus throwing, not so much being a coveted rookie for the Oilers. At one time, Amundson held the Iowa State discus record.

Once track season was done, he flew to Houston for training camp — three weeks after it started.

“If I did any negotiating or said anything, I was ineligible for college track and field, and I wanted to compete the rest of that year,” Amundson said. 

He took his agent with him to Houston, a man he met from his home state of South Dakota. The night before he would sign his first contract, Amundson remembers staying in a hotel across from the old AstroDome. He couldn’t sleep.

He woke up around 1 a.m. and looked up at the TV, which back then shut off at midnight. It was 98 degrees outside.

“I thought to myself, what have I gotten myself into?” Amundson said with a laugh.

“The next day we go in and we work out the deal with the team with my agent there. We get it done, and then he goes, ‘George, why don’t you step out for a second.’ I stepped out, and he actually ended up working out his own pay from the team. I never even paid him a single cent for his work.”

Per the NFL’s latest Collective Bargaining Agreement established in March 2020, the NFL’s minimum salary for players on an active roster is $660,000.

Back in 1973, the minimum salary for a player was $13,500. Amundson said his signing bonus was split over four years.

NFL career

Amundson would play two seasons with the Oilers and his final NFL season with the Philadelphia Eagles. He finished his career with 74 rushes, 194 yards and four touchdowns.

Amundson attempted to switch from running back to tight end for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1977 and 1978, but he suffered a knee injury during training camp in 1978 that ended his football career. 

Despite his career-ending injury, Amundson looks back on his time in the NFL with fond memories. He never thought about injury or how his career might end. He just loved to play.

“It was a blast,” Amundson said. “Who wouldn’t like to play games for a living and get paid for it?”

Right away, Amundson noticed the biggest difference between college and the pros was the size and speed of the players. The coaching was more sophisticated at the NFL level, and plays themselves had more dimensions to them.

He needed time to put his nose in the playbook and learn all of the route concepts and combinations within their offense.

When he showed up for his first training camp with the Houston Oilers, there were 12 running backs at camp.

Veteran players and rookies mingled naturally, and he made friends quickly. Teammates would go over to each other’s houses for supper and to relax.

“Every team I played for, defensive lineman ran the show, except for the Cardinals,” Amundson said.

Advice to Cyclones heading into the NFL

The NFL presents new opportunities and new challenges for young players. Amundson said Iowa State prospects should focus on being true to themselves throughout their careers.

Temptations exist, but as long as they love the game, Amundson said they will thrive in the NFL.

“All of the sudden, you’re getting a pretty good amount of money, and you have to be careful of and handling it more than ever,” Amundson said. “Not saying they need to invest it, but make sure you’re staying smart.”

Amundson thinks Breece Hall has a bright NFL future with his explosive play and quick, agile movement with the ball.

He’s also a big fan of the Cyclones’ tight ends.

“I love the grade point average of our tight ends,” Amundson said. “Those guys should have their manure together. They probably don’t need hints from me, but I hope they find someone good to represent them.”

Iowa State will look to break the drought at the 2022 NFL Draft April 28-30 in Las Vegas, Nevada.