Sunday, April 26, 2009

Human Nature? Ain't Nothin' Natural 'bout This Reality TV

I'm not necessarily proud of it, but I love the NFL Draft. No, no, I don't just love the NFL Draft. I loooooooove the NFL Draft. But I'm not quite sure why, and I know that I can't quite justify it. So let me list out a few of the things that I really like about it:

1) Tradition -- For nearly 30 years now I've been watching Mel Kiper, Jr., saying, "I don't like the pick. I think it was a major stretch." To me, this is one of the rites of Spring, up there with ice out on the lake, migrating waterfowl, crocuses and tulips, baseball Opening Day, and the sweet smell of blooming lilacs. I'm not sure if Mel Kiper's hair is blooming, but I am sure that it's non-migratory.

2) Hope -- Frankly, I've rooted for some bad teams over the years. Some really bad teams. Plus the 0-16 2008 Detroit Lions, who were in a class of badness all their own. But I will never forget that burst of optimism that I felt when I was 13 years old, a terrible Giants team drafted this linebacker from North Carolina named Lawrence Taylor with the second overall pick, and the highlight reel rolled. Finally! Finally! Look at this guy. Who cares if UNC is a basketball school. He's a bad-ass. Ten years later, the Giants had won two Super Bowls.

3) Hopeless -- So if Lawrence Taylor was the second pick of the 1981 draft, who was the first pick? Running back George Rogers, who went to the New Orleans Saints. Ten years later, the Giants had won two Super Bowl titles, while the Saints were ten years older. Disaster creates drama and few things are littered with more disasters than the NFL draft. For every Payton Manning, there is a Ryan Leaf. (In fairness to George Rogers, he went on to have a decent career. He even won a Super Bowl of his own, though it was with the Washington Redskins just before he retired.)

4) Suprises -- Mike Ditka once traded the New Orleans Saints' entire draft to move up and select running back Ricky Williams. Crazy people do crazy things on draft day, and I'm not just talking about the Jets fans lining the balcony of Radio City Music Hall. There's a certain joy that builds as each Oakland Raider pick approaches and we all know that Al Davis will do something spectacularly unexpected. (Then, to recall tradition, Mel Kiper will say, "This is another bad reach by the Raiders. That player would have been there four rounds later.")

As I type this, the Lions just traded their 3rd-round pick for a later 3rd-rounder and a 4th-rounder. SURPRISE!

5) Decision-Making -- I just really enjoy watching all of the decision-making that goes on. Every pick involves a decision tree: Trade-up? Trade-down? Who's the best player? What positions do we need to fill? And there's a vast quantity of analytical minutia clogging the decision-making tree. So eventually a guy like middle linebacker Zach Thomas -- who tackled everybody in sight in college -- drops to the 5th round because teams think he's an inch too short and ran the 40-yard-dash one-tenth of a second too slow. What does he do in the NFL? Tackle everybody in sight for the next ten years.

6) Armchair Drafters -- Everybody who follows a team has an opinion about who they should draft. And the best thing is that none of us really know anything about how these players will turn out. I watched 1/2 of one game that Matt Stafford quarterbacked this year. The Lions front office has watched every throw he has made in a game going back to his junior year in high school. And yet I feel perfectly entitled to judge their pick.

And whereas passionate opinions with no basis in fact are one of the most annoying aspects of politics, in spectator sports there are an absolute boon. Talk radio and the Internet have really helped ramp up this aspect of the draft. Right now on, there are hundreds of Lions fans live blogging about the Lions draft. And most of them are pissed. They have no idea whether any of the picks will actually work out. But given the Lions' history so far this century, they do know that they should be pissed at the front office on draft day.

7) Faux Hype -- Despite all that I love about the draft, it really is a non-event. So I just love watching the PR machine that cranks up around the whole thing.

And now, the Detroit Lions are back on the clock. So I'm going to stop typing and start getting pissed about whomever it is that they'll pick. It's my duty as a Lions fan.

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