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Coronavirus could not get in the way of the NFL draft

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The question of whether you can stage the NFL draft from Roger Goodell’s basement was answered pretty much to everyone’s satisfaction on Thursday.

Leave it to the National Football League to have a global pandemic ruin its annual exercise in excess — this one set for the ostentatious ostentatiousness of Las Vegas — and just turn it into the most successful zoom call of all-time.

Players were picked. Trades were made. A broadcast was delivered. There were no major issues or glitches. Bill Belichick even made a draft day trade, just to provide America a sense of normalcy in these trying times.

No one is certain if Mel Kiper was wearing pants or if Goodell was or wasn't hitting his man cave bourbon reserves between announcements or just how big Mekhi Becton’s father is, but when it comes to entertainment, it’s always good to keep the audience guessing.

Live from the Goodell residence was a nice touch, quarantine and all, even if it required three or so technicians to make it all work. It probably would have been safer to just film it six feet apart in the grill room at the Siwanoy Country Club, but that’s being renovated and might not provide the best optics.

Instead the commish played the everyman, clad in a simple sweater and an open collar, welcoming fans to boo him on social media and via video conferencing. He posted up in front of three televisions and at one point it looked like he had been snacking on ice cream.

The NFL is usually all about the spectacle, but this was a welcome change, an unrestrained, unfussy diversion.

It was a night for the home team, because everyone roots for the home team.

It was a draft about families, just as many of us huddle with our own. Player families. Coach families. General manager families.

There are always families for the players, but overdressed and stuffed around a green-room banquet table, conscious of the camera stuck in their face, rarely feels authentic. Same for the too-packed draft parties at home.

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, in The Plains, Ohio, puts on a Cincinnati Bengals cap after being selected first overall by the team during the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 23, 2020. (NFL via AP)
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, in The Plains, Ohio, puts on a Cincinnati Bengals cap after being selected first overall by the team during the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 23, 2020. (NFL via AP)

This was different. Fewer people. More emotion. Gone were the regrettable suits and the parades of man hugs. Instead it was the nearest and dearest on couches and in kitchens, like it was any other weeknight. They were often clad in t-shirts and slides, sharing America’s general commitment to corona casual. Henry Ruggs III even donned a sweet Old Spice bathrobe.

Joe Burrow lived the dream of being the top pick in the NFL draft, yet rather than getting to celebrate in Vegas, he was parked on his parent’s couch in rural Ohio. Still cool, but …

Tua Tagovailoa wore a suit anyway, ready for business. Jordan Love had a take-out order in front of him. CeeDee Lamb had his phone snatched away by a young lady (he took to Twitter to say it wasn’t what everyone thought). Jerry Jeudy had a big Pizza Hut order on the table. D'Andre Swift's living room wall features a huge painting of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

It was, well, real life. Real tears, real smile, real emotions, real everything.

Certainly no one missed the so-called “war rooms” where bad picks are annually made. It was much better to see NFL coaches and general managers at home, the rarest of glimpses of their actual lives.

They were surrounded by kids and pets and all sorts of tells about who they really are.

There was Denver’s John Elway in his living room, with three Lombardi Trophies standing prominent on an end table. There was Philadelphia GM Howie Roseman’s home office, busily appointed with pictures and memorabilia.

There was Tom Telesco at a dinner table, surrounded by kids and a stuffed moose decked out in a Los Angeles Chargers jersey. There was Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer in front of a roaring fire — Skol!

There was New Orleans’ Sean Payton, fresh off his own COVID-19 battle, working the phone with Orange Crush cans and Skittles bags in front of him. There was Tennessee's Mike Vrabel, where someone may or may not have been using the bathroom in the back shot.

There was New York Giants GM David Gettleman, making his pick in a room with zero decorations before slipping on a mask, a sign of the real world dangers, even in his own home, for a 69-year-old who went through chemotherapy a couple years back.

Bill Belichick flew solo at his kitchen table, while Sean Payton made draft day a family affair. (NFL via Getty Images)
Bill Belichick flew solo at his kitchen table, while Sean Payton made draft day a family affair. (NFL via Getty Images)

There was Auburn coach Gus Malzahn from what looked like a rec room with a wall mural that read “Hurry Up. No Huddle.” There was a Galaga machine in the background. Of course.

There was Arizona’s Kliff Kingsbury, sprawled out with shoes but no socks, on an all white couch, in exactly the kind of Scottsdale bachelor’s pad you’d expect — in the background was a mountain view, a pool, a fire pit … and a four-post canopy outdoor bed that doesn’t seem designed for social distancing.

There was Belichick, at a no frills (if oversized) kitchen table on Nantucket, three laptops laid out in front of him.

Finally there was the ultimate flex … Jerry Jones sitting in a living room on his 357-foot, 15-cabin, $250 million yacht, complete with a full gym, steam room, plunge pool, rain shower and two helipads (two?!?).

There were plenty of NFL families too. You work long, long hours to coach or scout or run these teams. Fun job. Demanding beyond belief. Something has to give and everyone in the league struggles — as many Americans — with work-life balance.

While the coaches and executives are creatures of habit who have recoiled at this disruption of their work life, it was nice to see the positive — some level of time with their kids. It’s one of the few positives of this entire pandemic.

And so here was the visual, sons and daughters standing by dad as they made the pick — the younger ones bouncing around for the camera, the tweens and teens trying to play it cool in their cameos.

That none of them filmed a Tik Tok in the background is about the only surprise of the night.

Really, it was perfect. The visuals. The simplicity. The entertainment. The unexpected details. The painting. The fun.

So screw the damn coronavirus. The verdict is in. It couldn't get in in the way of the NFL draft.

Whoever it was that dreamed up the big stages and red carpets and firework displays needs to be fired.

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