Well, here we are after the first round of the NFL draft... and it's pretty happy out there. I think this is part of what makes the NFL draft so popular; there are many more winners than losers. At least for now. In every NFL town across America, coaches and GMs are doing their annual "I can't believe he was still there" dance. You know, that's when the coaches rant on and on about how amazed they were that whoever they picked -- Russell Okung or Dez Bryant or whoever -- was miraculously still on the board when their turn came up. They simply cannot believe their good fortune. This happens every year, of course, and I have always wished that coaches and GMs would continue the thought to completion:
"I cannot believe that I.M. Formidable was there when we were picking. No, I mean it. It is beyond belief. It has become clear to us here that every other team is run by idiots. I mean, some of the guys picked before I.M., frankly, we wouldn't have picked them out of a tryout camp. Apparently the rest of the league is scouting by looking at the back of football cards or something because this guy is so clearly awesome, and we're picking, what, 23rd? I'm serious, we had two guys faint in the draft room they were so shocked he was still there. We had to pull out the smelling salts, again. I mean it's not even fair how much smarter we are than every other team. To summarize: We rule."
For the most part, fans and media types also tend to be happy with the first round of the draft. Here in Kansas City, for instance, the Chiefs took a safety, Eric Berry, with the fifth overall pick. Taking a safety with the fifth pick seems a bit like using one of your three genie wishes to get sensible shoes. But Berry is by all accounts a model player and young man, a hard hitter with good grades, a speed burner with good sense -- the comp that comes up again and again is Baltimore's classy future Hall of Famer Ed Reed -- and the majority of people around here, including my good friends at the Kansas City Star, seem to love the choice.
But, then, a quick scan of local newspapers shows that they seem thrilled just about everywhere. They're excited in Dallas with the choice of Dez Bryant, and they're dancing in the streets in Detroit over destroyer Ndamukong Suh AND running back Jahvid Best (don't forget the Motor City!). Seattle's new braintrust is getting "two thumbs up" for their choice of Russell Okung. A fan is shouting "We did it, we got what we needed!" in Green Bay after drafting Bryan Bulaga. Even a controversial pick like Tim Tebow has Woody Paige in Denver singing: "Tim Tremendous may be high risk, but he will be a mile-high reward."
• Cincinnati Enquirer'sPaul Daugherty (on tight end Jermaine Gresham): "For the first time, [Carson] Palmer can look into the red zone and see a tight end that can catch a touchdown pass."
• Tampa Tribune'sJoe Henderson (on nose tackle Gerald McCoy): "The Buccaneers didn't just want him, they need him."
• Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt in the Arizona Republic (on the joy of having Dan Williams fall to them): "You start to let your mind think, 'OK, we're going to have a chance to get this player.' And you start to worry. You know how superstitious I am, you don't want to think about it because you might jinx it."
• The Oakland Tribune'sMonte Poole (on the Raiders finally getting it right with Rolando McClain): "Drafting is an inexact science. All one can do is project. And McClain projects beautifully."
• The Houston Chronicle'sRichard Justice (on cornerback Kareem Jackson): "They added a tough, smart, polished football player... they got better."
And so on.
OK, it is true, not everybody is overjoyed with their pick. There are some people in St. Louis who wish the Rams had taken Suh instead of Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, though my guys Bryan and Bernie in St. Louis seem pretty happy and feel like Bradford offers A New Hope. In Jacksonville, many people are not especially thrilled by the choice of Tyson Alualu, who apparently in some mock drafts was predicated to go to the Wenatchee Valley Venom in the third round of the American Indoor Football Association draft. ""I'm not trying to win a popularity contest," Jacksonville GM Gene Smith told the Florida Times Union, and it's a good thing because Jacksonville averaged fewer than 50,000 at games last season, a number unlikely to be driven much higher by the addition of Tyson Alualu, no matter how good a defensive tackle he might become.
Still, for the most part, joy covers the football-loving land.
I sometimes wonder what it would be like if we could live in some alternate universe where we could watch the NFL draft for the first time AFTER we know how the players turn out. Because, we all know, some of these first-round picks are going to be busts -- or as we always called them on draft days "bustolas."
Because, sure, it would be a different thing to experience, the 2000 draft for the first time now.
You would see Cleveland drafting future bustola Courtney Brown No. 1 overall in 2000 and and you would hear Browns president Carmen Policy say "You find someone better, and that man is Superman."
You would laugh at the sheer joy in the voice of Baltimore coach Brian Billick because quarterback Redman miraculously dropped to his pick in the third round. "It was 'Whoa whoa! everybody stop a second. He may make it here!' It was an absolute slam dunk." Redman started six games in four years for Baltimore.
You would enjoy this Q&A with Trev Alberts where he lambastes the Browns for not taking future bustola Peter Warrick with the No. 1 overall pick, rips Washington for taking future six-time Pro Bowler Chris Samuels with the third pick, rips Baltimore for taking seven-time 1,000-rusher -- and one-time TWO THOUSAND rusher -- Jamal Lewis, and thought Arizona got the steal of the draft when they took Thomas Jones (who, to be fair, DID become a good player... but not for Arizona).
You would appreciate how happy Kansas City was that bustola Sylvester Morris somehow dropped to their pick, thrill to Buffalo coach Wade Phillips talking about how bustola Erik Flowers could help replace Bruce Smith, and enjoy the classic line of future bustola Rashard Anderson when drafted by Carolina: "If you've ever eaten a wild animal, I've probably been trying to kill it."
But all that happens much later. For now, it's all about hope and promise and new frontiers. Well, wait, not everywhere. In Buffalo, my beloved Buffalo, The News' excellent Jerry Sullivan did a marvelous job of popping any excitement that Bills' fans might have had about their new running back C.J. Spiller: "Spiller is a rare talent, but the NFL is an unforgiving league. The kid will get a rude awakening trying to run wide behind an offensive line with no proven tackles."
Jerry's general point seems to be that even if Spiller turns out -- not improbably, but no sure thing -- the Bills still stink. Buffalo is one of my favorite cities, and this is why. Buffalo is a town that will smack you with harsh reality at any and all times, even on draft day. Mistakes get made. Bustolas are real. Daydreams are for people in other places.