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� 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 Patron.
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 Boiler, Kiper quipped, "The Ravens are hoping he's a Pro Boiler." 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.