The Grand Stage
NFL Draft has become nation's biggest sports event
Posted: Wednesday April 25, 2007 11:27AM; Updated: Wednesday April 25, 2007 11:40PM
Today's hypothesis: The NFL Draft is the biggest sporting event in America. Before writing that bold sentence, I toyed with various other adjectives until settling on "biggest.'' Among them:
"Most significant.'' Is there a wimpier phrase for establishing importance? It claims heft, while leaving room for something larger, as if significance can be proved in almost any way.
"Most engaging.'' Deal or No Deal is engaging. American Idol is engaging. Under the right circumstances, a Tuesday night at Applebee's is engaging. It's another two-word combination that leaves room for escape if somebody challenges your claim. Oh, by "engaging,'' I just meant "interesting.''
"Hottest.'' The NFL Draft is many things. Hot is not one of them. The NFL draft is a haven for information geeks. That's not hot.
Face it, any description other than "biggest'' is a dodge, behind which a scribe can hide. No hiding here. After spending chunks of the last two months reporting a story in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated on the raging popularity of the draft, I'm convinced that there is not a bigger event on the U.S. sports landscape than the NFL Draft. And that includes the Super Bowl. (Sound effect: Audible gasp).
I know what you're thinking: Another columnist banging trash can lids in search of a reaction from the peanut gallery. Not so. This is from the heart. Here are four reasons why the draft is king.
1) The Draft is not a two-day event. It's a three-month event. NFL Nation (that's everybody) begins talking about the draft before the Super Bowl broadcast signs off. Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. suggested to me that it starts even earlier than that. "I get calls from people in Week 5, Week 6, when their teams are starting to struggle,'' says Kiper. "They're already wondering who they might be able to get in the draft.'' (An aside here: It's a kick to hear Kiper talk about the Draft in his native Baltimore-ese. He pronounces Draft like it's Giraffe-t. That doesn't come across, even in Hi-Def).
From early February into late April, fans talk endlessly about the draft, watch and listen to shows about the draft and hammer Web sites devoted to the draft. In March, I went to dinner with a group of New York Giants' fans who worship football, the Jints and the draft. Great guys, all of them. But I've got to say, their knowledge of the draft was vaguely scary.
The hype is endless from the dead of winter into the middle of spring. Give me another event that can match this.
The Super Bowl? Hah. Two weeks of hype. Period.
Opening Day in baseball? Overshadowed by hot stove in the winter and roster juggling during spring training. Fans focus on Opening Day only for a few days in advance.
March Madness? Not a chance. All but the hoopheads tune in come late February.
I once had a newspaper editor of mine tell me: "Sports is all about leading in to the event.'' No more so than with the Draft.
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