Before the NFL draft moved to New York City and grew up to be King Kong, it was a tidy, low-key affair.
Television ignored it. Newspapers covered it as just another Page 5 event – a day at the races, so to speak – with all the analysis done after the fact.
There was no prelude. Such staples of draft-season parlance as lateral mobility, weight-room reps, wingspan and two-gap technique weren’t heard on sports radio.
Then again, there was no such thing as sports radio.
Today, the NFL draft is a veritable industry that inspires 16 million website sages to hold 16 million mock drafts. I won’t be surprised if my next visit to a bookstore finds me wandering into a wing entirely devoted to the draft.
(Some presumptive titles: “The Vikings Are on the Clock”“From the War Room to the Green Room” “Father of the Draftnik: The Life and Times of Mel Kiper Sr.”)
I won’t lie about this: I follow the draft. I like the suspense, the gamesmanship, the smokescreen ruses. General managers aren’t known for telling the whole truth, but when it comes to the draft, they’re doing their jobs, to the best of their ability, by telling none of the truth.
There’s something sort of noble about 32 sports executives engaging in blatant dishonesty with each other, and with us. I like that.
The problem with the draft is its length. I don’t mean the actual event – two nights on prime-time TV, followed by a third day witnessed by the tired, the weary and the meek – which is longer than any human brain was designed to tolerate.
I mean the buildup to the draft.
Forty years ago, the NFL held a 17-round, two-day draft that began Feb. 1. This was nine days after the Pro Bowl, 16 days after the Super Bowl. There was a natural, cycle-of-life order to things in 1972: The Super Bowl preceded the Pro Bowl, which preceded the draft, and then fans were free to enjoy basketball and hockey and whatever goofy competition ABC’s Wide World of Sports trumped up as it spanned the globe in search of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
Before we knew it, spring training arrived, and by then even those few of us who paid attention to the draft pretty much forgot that Notre Dame defensive end Walt Patulski was shuffling off to Buffalo as the No. 1 overall selection.
Which brings me back to the problem of the prolonged buildup to a 2012 draft that ESPN has scheduled as a miniseries.
On Thursday morning, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed NFL scouts’ assessments about this season’s class of quarterbacks. One scout, who chose to remain anonymous, offered an evaluation of Baylor’s Robert Grifin III. It pulled no punches.
“As much as is written about his athleticism, his athleticism under duress in the pocket isn’t even close to Cam Newton’s,” the scout is quoted as saying. “This guy, the only way he gets big plays with his feet is if he’s got a wide-open field and the sea opens up for him.”
Ah, the scout remembers the Alamo Bowl, where the Huskies defense impersonated the open sea. But I digress.
Please continue, nameless scout, on your misgivings about Robert Griffin III. The floor is yours.
“He’s got a little bit of a selfish streak, too. Everybody was laying on Cam, but for some reason this guy has become gloves off. He doesn’t treat anybody good.”
That Griffin has a little bit of a selfish streak isn’t news: As a high-school student, he selfishly accumulated stellar grades, consistent with his selfish ambition to graduate first in his class.
Although Griffin graduated seventh in his class, he still was able to satisfy his selfish desire to be class president.
(Full disclosure: I graduated in the bottom half of my class of 850, and there was no groundswell movement for me to take on the role of class president. Whatever I was at the age of 17 – irresponsible, inattentive, immature, goal-disoriented – I suppose I can take some pride that I wasn’t selfish.)
Griffin’s selfish streak continued in college, where he twice qualified for the Dean’s List – er, the Selfish Person List – before earning a Bachelor of Arts degree. Along the way, he starred in track, selfishly running faster than anybody he faced, and won the Heisman Trophy, selfishly putting Baylor’s once-obscure football program on the national map.
Griffin graduated with a 3.67 grade-point average. A less selfish football player would’ve settled for a more modest goal – some mediocre grade-point average that put him on the fringe of eligibility, so a few of his academically challenged teammates wouldn’t feel like outcasts – but the brainy quarterback had this selfish ambition about pursuing excellence.
I’ve never met Robert Griffin III. I know about him only from the many interviews – hundreds, by now – he’s given since emerging as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
He addresses reporters respectfully, which is nice, and he addresses their questions thoughtfully, which is rare. Whenever I hear the kid talk, my faith is restored in the premise of young Americans striving for excellence.
But it’s been four months since RGIII threw a meaningful pass, four months since he ran for a meaningful touchdown. During those four months, a scout finally determined a flaw in the NCAA’s ideal version of “student-athlete.”
He’s got a selfish streak.
Count your blessings, Walt Patulski. You don’t know how lucky you were.