Dog Day Drafternoon

May 04, 2003

Football, said George Will, combines the two worst elements of
American life: violence and committee meetings. But there's no
violence in the football draft--save for the butterscotch dress
shirt of draftee Charles Rogers--which means that ESPN gamely
televised, for 16 1/2 hours last weekend, what was, in essence, a
committee meeting. Indeed, the draft's official name is the "NFL
selection meeting," and with all the paper reams, fax machines
and greaseboards in evidence, it was, at best, one part Broncos,
10 parts Kinko's.

And yet, more than 20 million viewers tuned in to the 2003 NFL
draft, demonstrating, once again, the clinical codependency of
America and football. Six minutes into the telecast, analyst
Dennis Green said, "This is America: We got great football
players," a phrase that ought to be minted on our coins. Behind
the ESPN set, in the distance, was a spotlit flag, so that Mel
Kiper Jr. looked, if you squinted, like a pompadoured Patton.

Though watching every minute of the draft is scarcely
advisable--is there a less titillating teaser in English than
"The Cincinnati Bengals are on the clock"?--it does have its
rewards. Oakland Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski, for example,
revealed in Hour 6 that reclusive owner Al Davis is fascinated by
women's basketball and that he recently asked Romo, a Connecticut
native, to tell him everything he knew about the UConn women's
dynasty. ("Nothing," naturally, was Romanowski's reply.)

Touching, too, was the post-Iraq effort to call each team's "war
room" its "draft room." Anchorpeople adhered to this admirably.
("Put us in the war roo--the draft room--with Al Davis," Andrea
Kremer implored Romanowski, one of ESPN's guest analysts.) Then,
in the next breath, someone would say, as Kiper did of Pittsburgh
Steelers selection Troy Polamalu, "This kid is a heat-seeking
missile!" By the time New Orleans Saints coach Jim Haslett, holed
up in his "draft" room, described defensive tackle Johnathan
Sullivan as "extremely explosive," Baghdad was but a distant
memory.

Or would have been, if not for the parade of NFL coaches and
general managers--Jeff Fisher, Andy Reid, Bill Cowher, Mike
Holmgren, Matt Millen, Dave Wannstedt, et al.--wearing the most
magnificent mustaches this side of Saddam's cabinet. Power abhors
a vacuum and, evidently, a bare upper lip.

Sadly, the draft that began at noon on Saturday became, only 87
minutes later, officially devoid of dramatic tension. That's when
the St. Louis Rams chose, with the 12th pick, Penn State
defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy, the last of the seven players on
hand in Madison Square Garden to actually be selected. The
flop-sweating, hand-wringing, tie-twiddling prospect--sitting,
unwanted, as the time unwinds on his wristwatch--is a riveting
staple of the NFL and NBA drafts. Alas, as Chris Berman noted,
this may have been the fastest clearout of a green room we've
ever seen.

As the day wore on, and on, Green's voice became a gravelly rasp.
He sounded, five hours in, like the unholy offspring of Fred
Sanford and Oscar the Grouch. Conversely, Kiper's mesmerizing
hairdo--familiar to anyone who's seen Jimmy Neutron: Boy
Genius--remained forever unshakable, a gelled Gibraltar.

Nearly eight hours into the proceedings, I feared that one more
mote of draft minutiae--"Not since 1984 has the first running
back been selected so late"--would, like the wafer-thin mint
consumed by Monty Python's Mr. Creosote, cause me to explode.
Yet, perversely, in the ninth hour of live draft coverage, the
ESPN ticker said, straight-faced, "For More Extensive Draft
Coverage, Log On to ESPN.com." Who, pray tell, needed more? Is
there, out there, a Mel Kiper Jr. Jr.?

When the Baltimore Ravens selected, in the first round, Cal
quarterback Kyle Boller, Kiper quipped, "The Ravens are hoping
he's a Pro Boller." And though it was only 2:46 p.m., I actually
heard crickets cheeping outside my window.

By 10 p.m. I recalled something Ron Jaworski had said about
Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich--"He will stand in the pocket
and beat you with his arm"--and began to beat my forehead with my
own arm, gone numb from 10 uninterrupted hours pinned beneath my
couchbound body.

Don't get me wrong: I will cherish the '03 draft, and not only
for the names Boss Bailey, Nnamdi Asomugha and Vishante Shiancoe.
There was also that moment when commissioner Paul Tagliabue
walked gravely to the podium to announce Green Bay's first pick:
A fan in the balcony broke the cathedral-like silence, at 120
decibels, with "Packers suck," and Tags seemed simultaneously to
flinch and grimace, Lee Harvey Oswald-style.

Nor will I soon forget the 40-odd promos for Jim Rome's new show,
Rome Is Burning, a title that made me think, each time I heard
it: He really should see a urologist.

Finally, I will forever hold dear the realization--late Saturday
night, after three rounds and 600 consecutive minutes of viewing,
the televisual equivalent of jury duty--that the 2003 NFL draft
was over. Or rather, half over. Less than half over, truth be
told.

There were four more rounds on Sunday.

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER

Is there a less titillating teaser in English than "The
Cincinnati Bengals are on the clock"?

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)