Happy First Night Of The NFL Draft.

In this high-stakes football competition, only feelings - not brains, knees, shoulders and other body parts - will be hurt.

And our Palmetto State will grab an early spotlight on ESPN at a New York City sporting spectacle now drawing so many TV viewers that it was moved from April to May this year to coincide with TV's ratings "sweeps" period.

Most analysts predict that the Houston Texans will draft South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the first overall pick - and that Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins will go no later than the fifth choice.

So if expert consensus holds up, our state will be the only one with two players in the top five.

OK, so Watkins is from Fort Myers, Fla. Hey, he did play for Clemson for three seasons.

And Clowney, who's also jumping to the pros as soon as the NFL allows (three years out of high school), is from Rock Hill.

Our state also put two teams in the top 8 of last season's final, post-bowl, Associated Press college football poll: No. 4 South Carolina (which has won five straight over the Tigers, all by double-digit margins) and No. 8 Clemson.

Yes, Alabama put two teams in the final top 7 - No. 2 Auburn and No. 7 Alabama.

Trivia puzzler:

Name the only three Pro Football Hall of Famers who played college football for South Carolina schools (answer at column's end).

Evasive tactics

Of course, the word "draft" isn't confined to the sporting arena. And some memorable words about "drafts" still hit hard.

For instance:

"I hereby state, and mean all that I say, that I never have been and never will be a candidate for president; that if nominated by either party, I should peremptorily decline; and even if unanimously elected I should decline to serve."

- Gen. William T. Sherman, squashing 1871 speculation that he could be drafted into becoming president. That and his subsequent statements on the same theme over the next 13 years are commonly condensed as: "If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve."

"I do not believe that you or I or anyone else has the right to state, categorically, that he will not perform any duty that his country might demand of him."

- Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in a 1947 letter to former Gen. Walter Bedell "Beetle" Smith, then serving as U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union. Five years later, big-shot Republicans finally succeeded in repeated efforts to draft "Ike" as their presidential nominee.

"If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn't have to draft me, I'd join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I'll go to jail, so what? We've been in jail for 400 years."

- Muhammad Ali in 1969. His 1967 conviction for refusing to be drafted into the Army was unanimously overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971.

"Right now, it looks like I'll be playing baseball with the Yankees."

- John Elway after being taken as the No. 1 overall 1983 NFL draft pick by the Baltimore Colts despite his warnings that he would not play for that team.

"He'll never be any good."

- Colts owner Bob Irsay on Elway after trading him to Denver six days after drafting him. Elway then led the Broncos to five Super Bowls, winning two.

"I had scouts legitimately say that he will not go before the fifth round. ... I've heard nothing but negatives about William Perry."

- Sports Illustrated NFL expert Paul Zimmerman on ESPN, immediately after Chicago used its first-round pick (No. 22 overall) in the 1985 draft on Clemson's William Perry. Then as a folk-hero rookie, "The Refrigerator" (300-plus-pounders were rare in the NFL way back then) started at defensive tackle and produced offensive touchdowns as a runner, passer and receiver. He even scored a touchdown (but Walter Payton didn't) on a one-yard run in Chicago's 46-10 Super Bowl XX romp over New England.

Diplomatic challenge

"I will not run for president of the United States. How is that? I don't know how many ways to say 'no' in this town."

- Condoleezza Rice, saying "no" again to "Draft Condi" enthusiasts on NBC's "Meet the Press" in 2005. Since then, Republican Rice has kept saying "no" to those trying to draft her into a presidential run - or a No. 2 spot on a GOP ticket.

But the former secretary of state did say "yes" to joining the selection committee for the upcoming season's inaugural College Football Playoff.

Trivia answer:

Marion Motley, Deacon Jones and Harry Carson, the only three Pro Football Hall of Famers who played college football for a school in our state, all started their college careers as South Carolina State Bulldogs - though Motley transferred to Nevada-Reno and Jones to Mississippi Valley State.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.