The picture of simplicity in 1965, the draft has since spawned a scene beyond recognition
Posted: Tuesday April 24, 2007 9:06AM; Updated: Tuesday April 24, 2007 9:10AM
Imagine the sales pitch that might have been delivered in the long hallways of a Ministry of U.S. Sports Culture not very long ago: O.K., how about this for a television event. The commissioner of the NFL stands at a podium in the middle of a stage. Every few minutes he reads out, in a businesslike monotone, the name of a collegian who has been selected to play for an NFL team. "With the first pick ..." and so forth. No music, no special effects. Just the commissioner and the microphone. Trust me. It'll kill.
The index cards have scarcely changed. "All these years, and we're still using the cards," says Joel Bussert, the NFL's vice president of player personnel and the impresario of the draft. In 1976, at the first of Bussert's 31 drafts, the league provided a stack of index cards on which teams could write their picks. The cards were stamped with blank lines for: team, round, player, position, college. "Now, of course, the cards are a little bigger and they have team logos stamped on the back," says Bussert. "But they're pretty much the same."
Little else about the draft is unchanged.
Riding the ever-rising tide of the NFL's popularity, the draft has become a spectacle unto itself, picking up steam before the confetti has been swept from the Super Bowl turf, then building to a crescendo on the last weekend in April in New York City. "It's become the second-biggest day of the year for the league," says Ernie Accorsi, who retired in January after three decades as a personnel executive with the Colts, Browns and Giants. "It's bigger than the conference championship games, it's bigger than opening day. It's bigger than anything the league does with the exception of the Super Bowl."
This year fans have congregated by the millions on the Internet, tirelessly debating mock drafts and arguing whether the Raiders should take LSU's JaMarcus Russell (a potential franchise quarterback) or Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson (the consensus best player) with the No. 1 pick. In the meantime prospects spend weeks tuning up for the scouting combine, on-campus pro days and individual workouts. On Saturday and Sunday, ESPN will provide 18 hours of live draft coverage, pulling in ratings that dwarf regular-season college basketball. Fans in game jerseys and face paint will swarm into Radio City Music Hall to cheer or chide each pick. In short, an entire culture has grown in support of an event that resembles sweeps month on C-SPAN.
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