This weekend is a bit of a vicarious Christmas for me.
My pleasure is derived not from what I obtain for myself, but, rather, I gather joy from watching what other people receive. Yes, there is a certain amount of ownership over the “presents” many of us will claim over the weekend, but the gifts are, in reality, for others.
Yup. It’s time for the annual NFL draft.
Much of Saturday and Sunday will see me surrounded by friends eagerly watching which collegiate football players go to what professional team. We’ll watch teams select players to fill certain needs at positions, teams trade their slots in for other picks or established veterans and some teams will just pick whomever they believe is the best player available, regardless of position.
Now, before I continue on this thought, I feel the need to backtrack just a little bit. I’ve often contemplated the madness of fans surrounding the NFL draft. It’s strange that this process has become must-see television, as there is no real “action” taking place, and the commodities are largely question marks — since the draft is not an exact science, we really don’t know if the person just picked by so-and-so team is going to be a star or a total flame-out.
Yet fans and commentators argue and argue, and praise this team and blast this team, and the cycle continues on for months, until the season actually gets under way and we see what kind of players these guys are. Of course, there’s also one particular factor that nobody really wants to take into consideration when “grading” the individual teams on the success of their drafts — sometimes, it takes a few years for a player to develop when he gets into the league. A rookie might be labeled a “bust” if he comes into the league and does nothing his first year, or, conversely, he may have praise heaped upon him if he outperforms expectations, only to never be heard from again after that succesful rookie campaign.
In reality, the draft’s a crap shoot. And it takes years to determine if a rookie class was any good or not.
But logic goes out the window come Saturday. The instant-gratification society in which we dwell demands that we react quickly and without prejudice when the commissioner calls out the name of the next draft selection. We will cheer, and we will boo, even if we really don’t know what we’re talking about — and that’s half the fun.
See, we all do it. Oh, the draft is a little bit of a hobby of mine, and I follow and read about all the prospective players in the months leading up to the big day. In fact, I’m such a complete dork that I fill out a mock draft every year and see how close to the real thing I come. But my information does not come from analyzing tape or talking with the kids one-on-one or getting information from their college coaches. It comes from picking up things from what other people say and a few highlight reels on YouTube.
Basically, I’m uninformed.
But that won’t stop me from angrily shaking my head when some team picks a guy I think they could have gotten later, or selects a player that doesn’t really seem to fit with the current team’s make-up. See, for that day, I get to play expert.
And that, my friends, might have been my longest digression ever.
Our reasons behind enjoying the draft notwithstanding, we do enjoy it. Ratings have increased on ESPN steadily over the years, and the NFL Network now has a very popular broadcast of the weekend, as well. There are several publications focused solely on the NFL draft, Web sites devoted to following potential draft picks and Mel Kiper Jr. and his hair have made a fortune over the years just by providing his insight to the process.
Oh, and there’s something to be said for drinking beer and playing cards with your friends while football teams select the NEXT GREAT THING in front of your very eyes. Hey, we’re men. It doesn’t take a whole lot to entertain us.
And, make no mistake, we will be entertained by the draft. We will collectively be quiet each time the commissioner makes his way to the stage to announce a selection, and we will eagerly anticipate the comments by the announcers regarding the latest pick. We will argue amongst each other, throw things at Kiper when his mouth goes into turbo drive and we will laugh at how stupid some of the teams continue to be year after year.
It’s male bonding — without getting naked in the woods and banging on tribal drums. Sounds good to me.