You have to give the NFL credit for having mad marketing chops. For over 30 years now, they have worked with their corporate partner ESPN and have managed to turn the NFL draft, which is nothing more than an administrative exercise, into a spectacle that draws millions of viewers.
Back in the day, I used to be a draftnik. I can remember sitting down with my pal and fellow Packer fan the Anonymous Truck Driver for a long day of watching Chris Berman, Mel Kiper, various other dudes in suits and approximately 25 minutes of commercials per hour. 20 years ago, ATD and I sat down in his apartment in the West Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago and tuned in attentively as our beloved Packers selected the man who would finally turn a moribund franchise around. He'd recently been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and was being touted as potentially the best player to ever play his position. We could barely contain our glee that the cleated messiah had arrived, the man who would return the Packers back to glory after nearly 25 years in the wilderness. He was Tony Mandarich.
Just goes to show that no one knows nothin' about nothin' when it comes to these things. Still, the allure was there and yes, I was interested enough in what was happening to do a little checking on the festivities this afternoon. They were all there -- Berman, Kiper, Mort and various other members of the Greek chorus of gridiron has-beens who draw a salary from ESPN these days. In the 20 years since the arrival of Mandarich, Kiper has turned into something of an institution, still with the most impressive car dealer finance manager 'do on television. They have better gizmos but the patter is strangely unchanged, that fey Draftspeak with its rhythmic cadences about explosiveness, high motors and knee benders -- all of those are Good Things to a draftnik.
Twenty years on, what's most interesting about the draft is how tribal it is. The manic Jets fans ring the balcony of Radio City Music Hall, chanting J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS! Over on the other side, the Giants fans, generally more patrician but still voluble, rumble their disapproval over this pick or that. Meanwhile, the team executives huddle and confer, trying to sort out the rumors and the feints that the other teams provide. It's all pretty damned, silly, really, but it is oddly compelling.
As for the players who were actually selected. . . . my beloved Packers selected a guy named B. J. Raji with their first pick, an enormous nose tackle from Boston College who weighs about 30-35 pounds more than Mandarich, who was considered absolutely massive 20 years ago. Following that, they selected USC linebacker Clay Matthews, who has impressive bloodlines; his father and his uncle both played in the NFL for about 1000 years apiece. Meanwhile, the Vikings selected wide receiver Percy Harvin of Florida in the first round. Harvin is a tremendous talent and a first-class headcase; in other words, a prototypical NFL receiver. The Vikings are used to head case wide receivers, so he should do fine. In the second round they picked a guy who has just about the best football name I've ever heard, a huge offensive lineman with the Dickensian moniker of Phil Loadholt. These days, any offensive lineman is a loadholt, I'm thinking.