TORONTO - When Pete Rozelle was first approached by ESPN about televising the NFL draft back in the 1980s he dismissed the idea with a shrug.
Silly notion. Like watching accountants at work. Who’d buy that?
Well, the network needed filler between the demolition derbies and lumberjack contests and today, like Ndamukong Suh looming over a fallen offensive lineman, the NFL draft dwarfs almost every other sport’s actual games.
The NFL is the king of sports leagues, even in the off-season. Two years ago, the coverage of the draft beat out playoff basketball for cable TV rating supremacy. In 2011, the NFL Network had its best draft audience, averaging 566,000 for three days, including more than a million viewers for Round One.
Thursday, 26 fresh-faced college prospects, some of whom looked as if they have yet to be introduced to a razor, showed up at the Radio City Music Hall. There was red carpet. There were limos. Pretty ladies — although most of them answered to “Mom.”
This was everything that the NFL is all about: Hype, apple pie, hype and, when in doubt, another helping of hype. ESPN and the NFL Network couldn’t find enough good things to say as grown men spent hours hugging, kissing and punching each other — and that was just the analysts.
Mike Mayock looked like he’d over-dozed on Happy Pills. Michael Irvin was dressed up like he’d raided Don Cherry’s wardrobe.
Deion Sanders gets big yucks. Clips show him arriving on draft day in 1989 decked out with enough bling hanging from his neck that it looks like someone had dropped a jeweller’s tray on his head. Sanders giggles: “I have deviated from that picture but Michael Irvin is still the same man.”
As for actual reporting, it took the day off. Commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t like TV audiences watching players in the green room on the phone as picks were about to be announced. Stole his thunder at the podium.
But NFL Network anchor, Charles Davis, had an answer: “If we see a draft prospect on the phone we are turning away. We are trying to make this as fan friendly as we can.”
Fan friendly would be watching what was happening, and telling people, not turning away.
They were being commissioner friendly.
End of story.
Andrew Luck, of course was picked first, with mother sticking a Colts’ pin into his lapel. Sweet. He had shown up about 6:30 on the red carpet, about 90 minutes before Goodell walked up to the microphone to intone “the season begins tonight.” Some people didn’t know it had ended. The NFL is a year-round business. Games are incidental. But, I digress.
Back to Luck. Still say he looks like the Beav, especially when he said Mrs. Cleaver ... ahhh, sorry, when he says his mom, and sister, picked out his suit and tie.
He’d shaved the beard. Bad move. Although I might be prejudiced in that department.
The Redskins took Robert Griffin III with the second pick. More kisses. More hugs. Never mind the playbook, the first thing the Redskins have to get this guy is a hat that fits. The one he had on made him look like he was wearing a beanie.
Then it got wild.
Cleveland traded up to get Trent Richardson, the Jags traded up to get Justin Blackmon, and ... hold it!
Jim Brown just called Richardson “ordinary.” Blasphemy.
Nice to know even the NFL can’t win ‘em all. But the hype machine is not easily derailed. Chris Berman warbles that the Cowboys have traded up.
Earlier, Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones said they’re going to make the team “Romo-friendly.” Not sure what that means, because putting Jessica Simpson at centre might be a bit of a stretch. And, then, they pick Morris Claiborne. Cornerback.
This is “Romo-friendly?” Guess it’s one more guy to clean up the mess when Romo says “Oops.” But Claiborne does make the defence better so maybe that helps Romo. Sort of. Not that it matters on this night, where every move is a good move. The analysts gush. Great pick, Jerry. Genius. Blah, blah, blah...
“Moment of a lifetime,” says Ryan Tannehill, eighth pick by the Dolphins. ESPN’s Jon Gruden gets deep: “I like this pick.” Geez. Glad we tuned in for the last five hours to hear that.
Well worth the wait.
Gruden says Tannehill could be the answer to Miami’s black hole at QB. Then he gets snippy: “It’s been a long time since Dan Marino threw a pass for the Dolphins.” Good line. Not sure about the pick.
The Seahawks go for Bruce Irvin. Seattle fans say: Bruce who?
He’s well known, demure the analysts. “A sleeper pick.” As opposed to sleeper viewers but, unlike Irvin, those usually don’t show up until Day 2 of this mind-numbing television journey.
Michael Floyd goes to the Cardinals. Somebody (sorry, there’s so many talking heads I’ve lost track who) says he’s quicker than Justin Blackmon. Not to mention, no doubt faster than a bullet, more powerful than a speeding train and able to leap tall buildings named Nnamdi Asomugha. Or Morris Claiborne. So, let’s see if Blackmon was the best, and Floyd is better, and ... ah, never mind.
Curious thing about the NFL. In the days and hours before the draft, analysts, scouts, and the “unnamed sources” pick nits about everybody from Luck to the bunch of guys in the Green Room the NFL draft forgot. Then, draft day shows up, and not a discouraging word is heard.
They could put Charlie Brown up on the board and somebody would clap.