Some comedian once called the NFL Draft “The Oscars for Straight Men,” and there is something to that label. While everyone will “grade” the teams’ drafts, and fans will argue and kibitz about who their team should have drafted, there are no definitive winners or losers. One of the more ridiculous aspects of the day is how every team claims to have gotten the players they wanted or rated highest. Just once, it would be thrilling to hear a general manager come out and say, “Look, we know he’s a reach, but all of the guys we rated highest were picked already, the coach and head scout got into a screaming match, the clock was ticking down and so I flipped a coin. Knowing his pain-in-the-tush agent, he’s probably going to hold out most of training camp, anyway.”
But for the players, there’s a bit of genuine emotion. It’s one of the few sporting events where fans watch athletes out of uniform, and where we see NFL players without their helmets on. Last night, we witnessed Mark Ingram cry as Suzy Kolber read him an e-mail from his jailed father, former NFL receiver Mark Ingram Sr., saying how proud he was of his son.
How many of us get that, particularly at such a young age? Almost none of us. (I was a free-agent signing for NR after being on the practice squad at CQ and a few years doing special-teams work for Washington wire services.) No one applauds us on our first day on the job, nor do we get to hold up a company uniform with the number one on it. Sure, these young men arrive with enormous, perhaps impossible expectations and pressure. But most of us would relish a day like Draft Day for one of the top picks.
So that explains why Draft Day is important to players. But why do fans watch it? Why does it sometimes get higher television ratings than the NBA playoffs?