Posted: Tuesday April 24, 2007 9:06AM; Updated: Tuesday April 24, 2007 9:10AM
Why? Because the draft taps into every fan's inner fantasy player, giving him a sense of control and power that's lacking on fall Sundays. No sane recliner jockey believes he can do Peyton Manning's job -- but plenty of them think they can do Bill Polian's. "And do it three times as well," says Polian, the Colts' president. "It's noise, folderol and curbside psychoanalysis."
The deregulation of college football telecasts in 1984 unintentionally turned the draft over to the masses. Where previously fans were limited to two or three college games per weekend, suddenly dozens were being televised nationally, showcasing thousands of potential pros. "College players had been mysterious," says the ubiquitous Mel Kiper Jr., who began publishing a draft guide in 1979 and has built himself into a brand name synonymous with the event. "The only guys people had heard of were from Notre Dame or the Heisman Trophy winners. Now there are hundreds of college players ready-made for the draft."
Looking for a deeper explanation for the draft's appeal? Sports sociologist Jay Coakley, professor emeritus at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, says some fans enjoy seeing athletes in a setting in which they're "objectified and reduced to pieces of meat ... in the same manner that some women and men watch beauty pageants. It offers a chance to be a voyeur while feeling temporarily superior to those being watched and objectified."
If that's too scary, there's a simpler hypothesis. Draft day is the birth of a year's optimism, before high picks turn into busts, before hope descends into a 2-6 record and strident cries for the coach's head. "Every team and all their fans think they're a winner on the day of the draft," says former Redskins and Texans G.M. Charlie Casserly. "It's one weekend when nobody loses any games. Everybody is undefeated."
At a sinewy 6'4", 219 pounds, USC wideout Dwayne Jarrett is an imposing physical specimen. In three seasons as a starter he caught 216 passes and scored 41 touchdowns. But several NFL clubs are uncertain whether he's fast enough to merit an early pick, so at USC's pro day in late March, Jarrett was dressed to run the 40-yard dash in a black sprinter's unitard with gold insets on the shoulders, similar to models designed by Nike for Michael Johnson in his Olympian prime. Not coincidentally, Jarrett endorses Nike. "When you look good, you feel good," said Jarrett. "And you run fast."
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