Mon Apr 28 12:35pm EDT
Cian O'Day of fuhbah.blogspot.com was at this weekend's NFL Draft, and was kind enough to send in this entertaining report.
The NFL has a strange hold over people. And the draft is the greatest demonstration of this voodoo. The draft is simply the most ridiculous of the NFL's sporting events, in that, well, there's no sporting to be found. I number myself among the captivated, obsessed with the pro game 180 more days than I should be. Championships aren't won in April, but the draft peddles hope to fans of every NFL franchise.
But why do people wait in line for hours on end to simply hear names read off index cards? Why not watch it on television from the comfort of home? To find out I attended this year's draft.
This was my first draft. According to my research, arriving early was key. I hedged my bets and rolled up to Radio City Music Hall at 3 a.m on Saturday. Already, a few hundred people were set up in barricaded areas on the sidewalk running up 50th. After a brief chat with the first person in line, a rotund middle-aged 49ers fan who proudly noted he arrived Friday afternoon at 2:30 p.m., I staked my own claim.
Evident from the outset, the draft is very much a Jets dominated event. If the mass of green and white jerseys bearing a diversity of names from greats (Namath) to not-so-greats (Dewayne Robertson) doesn't provide the tip off, then the intermittent "J-E-T-S" chants should. This is as much due to geography as it is the franchise's only occasionally interrupted awfulness, a futility netting them high picks in most years. Jets fans are of course famous for booing just about anything and everything. Yet they remain optimistic enough to turn out in full force. The draft captures the fanbase at its core, something that operates in varying degrees at the heart of every fan, a sense of impending dread fighting a desperate need for hope. Jets fans just possess a more highly developed sense of impending dread than most.
While dominated by the Jets, fans of every NFL franchise overrun the draft. Because it is the only event attended by fans of all 32 teams outside the prohibitively expensive Super Bowl, the draft functions as a mini-caucus. In the long hours of waiting, there's nothing to do except talk football with other fans. Got a gripe with Denver's cutblocking? Take it up with the guy in the Champ Bailey jersey. Looking for a defense of the Javon Walker signing? There's three Jamarcus Russells right over there, willing to defend Al Davis.
Don't get me wrong, there were no points of order, no show of hands. Yet decisions were made. This year, fans of 31 teams decided that the Patriots are absolutely not being let off the hook. What began as routine booing by Jets fans morphed into near universal mocking chants--"18 and 1" the only one fit to print here--at the site of Patriots apparel. A police car on a routine drive-by slowed to heckle a group of New England fans. A fight nearly broke out when someone poured beer on a guy in a Randy Moss jersey. At one point, a little boy in a LaDainian Tomlinson jersey tried to get in the face of an adult in a Pats sweatshirt. Never mind that the boy wasn't even seven years old so "getting in his face" amounted to getting in his crotch, it was still an impressive if odd sight.
Why the rough treatment? Spygate, nominally. But also for getting so close to perfection, for all the hubris that goes along with it, then falling short. Add in a little jealousy for past success, though I doubt anyone would want to trade franchises now. The anti-Patriots sentiment ballooned in the wake of their Super Bowl loss. Somehow, New England's regular season perfection kept the harshest criticism in check. With the Giants' stunning upset, the door cracked open. The draft merely provided a moment of agreement. What began on the streets in overstuffed lines continued inside Radio City. Every time the Patriots were pronounced on the clock or their team highlights shown on the jumbo monitors, emphatic boos rang out from the crowd.
Next year, fans of the 32 teams will assemble again for the draft. A new season will be on the horizon. New gripes, new victories will forge new sentiments. In a league that never lacks for drama, a new set of lines will be drawn.
It's as much democracy as it is mob rule. But most of all, it's another chance to be shamelessly obsessed with football. I don't have an idea how many fans make the trip year after year. The draft is overly long even with the new shortened time frame. And I suspect a lot of people only make the trip only once. But there's little doubting it's a spectacle and as close as football fans will get to our own annual meeting.
Here are some random thoughts and observations from my two days at the draft:
- The NFL needs to study basic crowd control measures. Fifteen minutes before the wristbands required for admittance were scheduled to be handed out, a stampede ensued, rendering the order of the night before null and void. I don't know of any injuries, but being pressed against thousands of other bodies like a canned sardine was not fun, especially when these thousand bodies were up most of the night before (for all I know I smelled like a sock, too). Also, several people who waited in line for hours upon hours were turned away when all the wristbands were given out.
- As mentioned above, the first guy in line was a 49ers fan. Once I secured my wristband, I bumped into the line's version of Mr. Irrelevant, the last guy to get a wristband. He too was a 49ers fan. Being on the East Coast, it's not often I cross paths with two of those in a day.
- If you were taking the top three picks in this year's draft to the beach, bring plenty of sun tan lotion. Jake Long, Chris Long, and Matt Ryan are the palest top three draft picks since, I don't know, probably some time in the 60's.
- Does Joe Flacco remind anyone else of Kyle Boller? Shouldn't Baltimore be the last team that needs signposts to that comparison?
- The Redskins must have been so happy to simply have draft picks that they didn't notice they drafted only receivers on the first day. Devin Thomas is coming off only one good year in college. Fred Davis barely counts as a tight end. In all fairness, Malcolm Kelly is already doing his best Chad Johnson impression, what with his paranoid ranting at the Oklahoma pro day, making the Ocho Cinco trade that didn't happen less of a blow for Washington fans.
- Can anyone tell me which draftnik predicted Houston receiver Donnie Avery would be the first wideout off the board? St. Louis selected him 33 overall with the second selection in the second round well before Limas Sweed, Malcolm Kelly, and Mario Manningham, all rated higher than Avery on every board I saw.
- As a Packers fan, I just want to thank General Manager Ted Thompson for opening the quarterback controversy book. That's something we really needed (seriously, I like Brohm as a prospect, now we have the two best quarterbacks in the NFC North).
- I don't know what's more surprising. Seven USC players were chosen on day one--two in the first nine picks--from a team that chronically underachieved all season long. Or that any Notre Dame players were chosen on the first day at all--two in the second round--from one of the worst teams in college football last year.
- Before the draft kicked off, an organist pumped away at whatever tunes an organist plays... that is until, he broke out into an unsettling rendition of Ozzy Osbourne's Crazy Train. "Going off the rails" indeed.
- Speaking of the music, the songs piped into the event were generally terrible. I feel for the Seahawks fans continually forced to relive some grunge classic or another at any fitting moment. Also, the sound guy must feel the same way I do about the Broncos, choosing John Denver's Rocky Mountain High when they were on the clock in the first round.
- One of the few musical bright spots happened when Barry White's Can't Get Enough of Your Love played over the sound system. Based on the sometimes stilted and awkward foot tapping and shoulder swaying, we have further proof that White can will anyone to groove.
- Walking into the draft's second day is a bit like revisiting the scene of some awkward moment of adolescence. There's something shameful yet comfortable about it.
- On the plus side, entrance to the second day doesn't require standing in excessively long lines. Sure, the names may be increasingly anonymous by the third round, but it's also an easy way to waste a couple of hours on a Sunday morning.
- The loudest cheers on the second day were for Caleb Campbell before and during his interview with ESPN. Campbell is a West Point cadet who played safety on Army's team. Under a new provision by West Point, players drafted are allowed to delay their service commitment until their pro careers end. Campbell was later selected by Detroit in the seventh round.
- Is there a rehab center for head coaches that develop unnatural fetishes for certain positions? Jon Gruden needs to be checked in after the Buccaneers selected San Diego's Josh Johnson in the 5th round. Johnson joins Jeff Garcia, Brian Griese, Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski, and Luke McCown on Tampa Bay's depth chart. It's not like depth at other positions such as cornerback or defensive tackle are that important.
- Boredom conspired against the ESPN crew on the second day. The peanut gallery launched chants of "Jaws" for the Polish Rifle, "Hall of Fame" for Cris Carter, catcalls for the attractive and anonymous female member of the production crew, as well as, cheers for whenever Trey Wingo ate. Cheering Trey Wingo to chug his Diet Coke... that should be descriptive enough of the draft's second day.
- Overall, I'm glad that I went to the draft, but I don't ever expect to get back the sleep I missed. That's something I'll gladly give up if Jordy Nelson ever develops into a worthy successor to Donald Driver.
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