The NFL’s Virtual Draft Went Well, But I Miss The Real Thing

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Anecdotal experience and my social media algorithms have shown me that Seattle Seahawks nation strongly dislikes the NFL Draft. Even though every draft marks the unofficial start of the NFL season for this rabid fanbase, during the first round, we are at most merely curious. 

We feel wise knowing ahead of time we will not be thrilled, excited that we are tragically immune to all the pre-draft hype. We don’t and can’t believe in the buzz, and then our first-round draft day atheism is inevitably confirmed because we all know what happens when John Schneider and Pete Carroll man our draft room controls. It is the equivalent to throwing lighter fluid on a bonfire. We say, “Oh, bright idea! Strategic,” before noticing zero progress. We have arrived at exactly where we started.

Take this into a broader context: This entire first night of draft coverage feels like any typical first day of all recent Seahawks draft programs—not totally without fanfare, but still wholeheartedly bland, boldly anticlimactic. We’re all nervous about the future. We cannot escape reality. We are worried the entire 2020 season may not happen. The other day, I tried watching ESPN’s H-O-R-S-E competition. I turned it off after no more than twenty minutes. I threw sticks around my backyard for my dog instead. And it was not as if I was unexpectedly annoyed with the lack of action, although there was still a shocking amount of wind roar disrupting the ongoing sounds of banter and player interviews. I knew what to expect going in, but all of the low quality FaceTime footage, shot from a smartphone perched on a wobbling tripod felt excessively hard to watch on a large television because not only was resolution poor but the athletic action, although no one’s fault in particular, was emphatically subpar. 

We know the real thing when we see it. I don’t—we don’t—settle for false representations. 

Yet, somehow, I’m watching this streaming video draft day knowing I won’t get any real action. And I’m sitting in my warm, dark living room, still trying to decide if ESPN’s charade tonight isn’t much better than their H-O-R-S-E broadcast. So far, it is slightly better because the 49ers traded their pick to the nascent-yet-freakishly stacked Bruce Arian’s (Seahawks Kryptonite) Buccaneers. Imagining the future Bucs team is a lot like when sports-like events are not exciting enough on their own. So fans, commentators and writers will add superfluous hype on top of as much of any available and vivacious speech to, in no uncertain way, amplify all perception of ongoing entertainment value. 

Case and point: the WWE. All hype and theater, yet still fun sometimes. 

But football is not professional wrestling. Despite what FOX’s WWE commercial campaigns may have one believe, they are unrelated and vastly different. So when, earlier this week, the dire but hearty and barrel chested predictions from the heavy hitting sports writing elites and pencils at ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The Athletic, and Bleacher Report via CNN chimed in to give us their hot take on the forthcoming NFL draft cycle, no surprise at all, they predicted monstrous disasters across the league. Most of their pieces argued for calamity. Some of the more vivacious pieces came supercharged with an especially shrill and hyperbolic tone that was not unlike the vibe I get from among one and many of our major city’s street corner prophets. These writers, all of them I admire, came across totally tone deaf. As NFL fans—and now more than ever—we should guard against leaping into cataclysm. An aside, today also marks the fifteenth anniversary of YouTube’s inaugural video upload. In the first video, the now-titanic website’s founder, a baby-faced Jawed Karim, delivers the first line:

“Alright. So here we are in front of the elephants.” The light behind him is dark. He is wearing a red scarf. He seems cold. But he is also excited, poised. He seems distracted by a much larger future picture. He appears a little on edge.

And therefore Karim looks a lot like Roger Goodell did while he delivered a common-sense address with, yes, another elephant in the room. Throughout the evening, while coaches, players, and commentators huddled in front of computer screens and spreadsheets and phones, and as the whole collage of domesticated bunker draft rooms dwindled in lieu of more picks being made, the abundant spirt of the night reminded me, more and more, of the energy I felt from Karim’s zoo video. 

No disrespect, but my whole impression of this NFL Draft is that it feels strange, ultimately arbitrary. We have no clue what our future holds, nor when football or any professional sport is coming back. But I’m playing it by ear, trying hard to remain patient because of some advice my die-hard Cleveland Browns fan, and friend, Mac, gave me once: Keep it breezy. I begin to question why I feel it’s relevant to scrutinize these innocuous fluorescent videos anyway. I’m not owed anything even if I feel I must, that I have to watch something sports-related since, and this is obvious, there are no new major American sports developments anywhere else. This event, like Karim’s, is one of a kind. It is revolutionary. And it is boring. This is evolution mollified by the complex uncertainty surrounding our sports universe. I feel conflicted craving real sports tonight because I know what type of risk players and coaches and staff take by showing up for work, a regular day. 

Day 1 of the NFL Draft was not exciting. But it was still strange in small ways. It was something of a return to the inevitable, even if the conditions of routine were disguised by new circumstance. Bill Belichick allegedly (villainously) hunkered down in Nantucket, instead of being entrenched deep inside Patriots headquarters in Foxborough. A large monitor in Bristol, Connecticut became a video collage of sixty former collegiate players. There were far fewer flashy suits this evening, yet each postage stamp video showed the same ritual of nervous families gathering together, from around the entire country, because this was still an evening that had the potential to change lives forever. The players looked more human beside their parents in their family homes. Other isolated NFL coaches resembled avid fantasy football players. Mel Kiper Jr. brought out his patented enthusiasm for hypotheticals early during the pre-draft chatter. He set a fun tone as I watched close to, if not the best, then possibly most exhilarating Zoom meeting in the country. Michael Irvin and Kurt Warner posed in front of a vast array of refulgent championship hardware. 

Familiar sights, sounds—then I hear a sobering note. 

Word comes down that ESPN’s other NFL Draft coverage standout, Todd McShay, is not in video attendance this evening because he is at home battling the coronavirus. Sports often act as a bubble from the outside world. News of McShay’s diagnosis popped the night’s bubble. Throughout pre-draft coverage, ESPN’s anchors and their special musical guests, like Jennifer Hudson, repeatedly emphasized sending viewers all of, “The hope we’ve been missing.” Roger Goodell thanked, “Our heroes on the front line,” from our emergency and medical services. Then he asked for a moment of silence. A video montage with prime patriotic images played and were punctuated by American flags spangling a photoshopped image of the Statue of Liberty. And a twin columned line of medical staff in scrubs outside a Newark hospital applauded a fist pumping military veteran leaving the building in a wheelchair, wearing a mask. Five minutes later, Goodell said he was going to miss the draft-day tradition of giving out bear hugs. 

After arguably the greatest individual quarterback season in the history of college football, Joe Burrow wound up going number one overall to the Cincinnati Bengals. He was dubbed, “The Tiger King.” I waited impatiently. The Seahawks defied my expectations and made a great pick: linebacker, Jordyn Brooks. Watching game footage, I got the impression of a linebacking Kam Chancellor, who was already built like a linebacker, playing safety in the Legion of Boom. 

I turned off the television and fantasized about something else because I miss football enormously. Draft Day was decent. But I can’t wait for the real thing again. I know I’m not alone. 

Until then, go home, and stay home. As a sports writing community, even if it is hyperbolic, let’s try hard not to leap into cataclysm, because we have more than enough already.

Stay safe. Be strong. Go Hawks.

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