When I was a kid reading Sports Illustrated, each week's Scorecard column concluded with an item that began, "This week's sign that the Apocalpyse is upon us..."
Except at the dentist's office - when I peruse a six month old copy in the waiting room - I don't read SI any more. But everyone can see this decade's sign that the Apocalypse is indeed upon us: The NFL Draft is a media event.
The draft - or at least most of it - has been televised for a long time, of course. But it's only recently that it's become an Event. Am I the only one who doesn't see that we're a just a blink away away from a halftime show between the second and third rounds starring Lady Gaga - and featuring a duet with Deion Sanders dressed as Jay-Z?
Seriously, folks... where else can you watch the NFL Commissioner stride to the podium, furrow his brow and gravely intone the league's support for the people of Boston... and then, seconds later, listen to the draft analyst on the anchor desk point out that Barkleyicious "Juicy" Shiguanolutei - the inside linebacker from East Northeast Central Miami of Delaware - is the most explosive player in the second round? Really? Shouldn't Homeland Security be arresting this guy before somebody gets hurt? How are they going to get him past the X-ray machines at the terminal on the road trip to Buffalo?
It's long been known that draft analysts don't actually make their living evaluating talent for anybody; not one of these guys has ever picked a player in the NFL Draft. So I've often wondered what they did before they hit the big time. But this year, I finally figured it out: they must have been building inspectors, because I've never seen a group of people more obsessed with a player's floor and ceiling. Next year, I fully expect one of these analysts to explain with a straight face that Ezeklitholomew "Breaker" Teslagomez from USC (no, the other USC - the lesser-known University of South Cleveland) only fell to the fourth round when aluminum wiring was discovered in his body, and serious concerns were raised about his sump pump.
But you have to hand it to these guys. As building inspectors, they had to be sharp eyed and quick on their feet. You can't make a living in that game without being able to surreptitiously spot the corner of that $100 bill sticking out of the bar owner's shirt pocket, and move quickly to grandfather that roach infestation in the kitchen. So they have no difficulty when those unexpected picks are made. "No, coach, this gomer that Jerry Jones just picked isn't on my big board, but I want to show you this grainy cell phone video we found on YouTube. He's that green blotch I just circled. But I see that he has a cool Samoan name, so he must be a beast! Overall, I like the pick." They can't, after all, afford risking that the Dallas fans will lose heart and tune out before the next commercial break, which will feature both Cialis and Viagra.
There have been some positive changes this year. The NFL has proudly eliminated those shots of the prospective players in the green room getting their congratulatory calls from the GMs, thereby ruining the suspense of the Commissioner's actual announcement. My sources tell me (read: I saw this from some guy on Twitter) that this wasn't done to preserve the drama of the event. The league's main concern was that Manti Te'o would be presumed to be the next pick on every single cutaway - and each time, it would have turned out to be his girlfriend on the phone.
Still, though, this change has left more time for really important shots from the green room. It wouldn't be the NFL Draft if the cameras couldn't bring us "up close and personal" to the human drama of a young man who has worked and waited his whole life for this one moment that will be the culmination of his lifelong dream... which is, of course, to be on national TV as he is overrated by so-called experts and left twisting in the wind while 32 NFL teams say, "No, thanks." That's what we call quality television!
The fun continues after the show ends. Draft experts move quickly to grade the picks made by each team, while no one questions the ridiculousness of assigning letter grades to players who not only haven't played a snap in the NFL, but could probably only manage a D in Recreation Studies. But no matter. It's the 21st century, and we want to know how things worked out for our teams as soon as humanly possible.
You shouldn't worry, though. The NFL is already working on an even more streamlined system, where beginning in January, draft hopefuls will appear on a weekly TV show before a special panel consisting of Mel Kiper, Mike Mayock and a guy from Oakland who is living in his stepmom's basement while he's on probation. These three will decide which 224 players will move on to the final show - a three day TV extravaganza where players will search throughout Radio City Music Hall for one of the 32 coveted "First Round Idols," and each team's selections will be based on votes from the fans of each franchise. Normal text messaging rates will apply.
I just can't wait for the season to begin.