April 22, 2004

Sports Geeks Love Drafts

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I have a confession to make. Its tough, humbling even; I’m not really sure if I’m fully ready to acknowledge it, but I should. OK. I’m a sports geek. Previous to this week I have never fully accepted this, but now its too obvious to ignore.

Like all events in a person’s life, it happened in measures. Only lately have I noticed the final signs. It began somewhere in the first few years of college for me, when I started making daily check-ups on the news about the Cleveland sports teams I follow — the Indians-Browns-Cavaliers, Ohio State Football too, which is more of a state-wide thing. Then it moved into odd things. I started to like watching golf; then I stopped disliking NASCAR; I even got interested in the NHL playoffs, which I have no real reason to follow other than the fights — I’m not a fan of any particular NHL team. This year I’ve been watching the NBA and NHL playoffs just for the hell of it, to see what happens, to catch some good games, and to see the Knicks and the Celtics get their asses kicked. I was sure to watch SportsCenter to catch the highlights of Phil winning the Masters, and my latest obsession is the NFL Draft. That’s right, the NFL Draft. It doesn’t even really involve competition, or points, or even athleticism, but it grips me.

It’s kind of sad. Normally, I’d like to think of myself as a get-outside kind of guy. I like to run, hike, ski, all those sorts of outdoorsy things. None of it has been happening this spring though. I’m sitting inside doing reading for classes and avoiding my homework at esoteric, NFL related websites trying to deduce such things as which team will pick which player at the top of the draft, who the Browns will get and how much that player will help them next season. I don’t know, maybe its some odd manifestation of senioritis. I can only hope I have better things to do with my life than compulsively follow professional sports drafts — or at least I’d like to think so.

That said, following the draft is terribly intriguing. It’s like a high stakes game of horse racing. Each team is betting on a different three-year-old, trying to get the good odds and find the hidden gems among the field. If a team picks the right player — a future Hall of Famer, or a regular all-pro, even a solid starter in the later rounds — a team can be set for years, on its way to the playoffs or even a Super Bowl. Miss on one too many picks though, or even one particularly important pick, and a team might end up like the San Diego Chargers or the Arizona Cardinals — sucking, big time.

Raising these stakes is the topsy-turvy state of the NFL. It seems the only people who have any clue of how to field a consistently good team are the people at the Patriots and Ozzie Newsome. Andy Reid might be on that list too. For the rest of the league, a good draft could mean riches, or it could mean rags, and its all about the luck. Does your team feel lucky? I hope so.

This year a thick plot surrounds the top 10 picks in the draft. Everyone says that quarterback Eli Manning will very likely be the first pick, but no-one has a clue of who will pick him. The Chargers own the first slot, but the Giants, Redskins, and Browns, at picks four, five, and seven, respectively, all have designs of moving to the top to get their man, whether it is Manning or monster left tackle Robert Gallery. A whole bevy of pro coaches have designs on Gallery, eyeing him as the answer to their problems on the O-line. Five of the top seven teams could take him, and some appear ready to offer their coaches’ first born daughters for the chance to pick him. Further sweetening the drama are two darling quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers, who could go anywhere in the top 10, and a pile of top flight receivers deep enough to bury Jerry Rice. Its anybody’s guess who will go where.

For my sake, I’d like to see the Browns get Gallery, the costs be damned. It might take a package sweeter than Walter Payton to move up from their seventh slot, but Cleveland needs a left tackle like a frat boy needs freshmen; it will be worth it. Who knows what will happen though. There is always the Hall of Fame pedigreed bad-boy, Kellen Winslow, and Sean “The Best Safety Since Sliced Bread” Taylor.

We’ll see how it goes this Saturday. I have to work, or I’d probably be sitting on the couch, white-knuckling the armrests as Paul Tagliabue announces the names from a podium, singing them out like the high drama of opera. Such is the life of a sports geek. I’m sad, but God, I love it.

Matt James is a Sun Senior Writer. Long Distance Runner will appear every other Thursday this semester. Matt can be contacted at [email protected].

Archived article by Matt James