Feschuk on the positivity of the NFL Draft

Illustration by Jason Schneider

The NFL Draft can’t guarantee intrigue—just pomp and positivity. Loads and loads of positivity.

Heading into the 2015 NFL Draft, there were a number of pressing questions: Could Tennessee be lured from the No. 2 slot? Would Cleveland draft Johnny Manziel again, just to make a point of it? Would Chip Kelly trade up and down so many times that his only picks would be in next month’s NBA Draft?

Intrigue seemed imminent. Urgently, we were told: “The Bears have Jay Cutler on the table right now!” Though, to be fair, that could have just been for routine maintenance to his charisma suppressors.

Few enterprises do spectacle quite like the NFL. Did you catch the NHL Draft lottery broadcast last month? It consisted of a bald man opening envelopes—because nothing sends fans into a tizzy like oversized novelty stationery. If the NFL had a draft lottery, it would be a three-hour, prime-time event featuring fireworks, cheerleaders, a touching new ballad by Mr. John Legend and a 12-minute Bob Costas essay about how, in the end, aren’t we all really Ping-Pong balls in the lottery of life?

That said, the NFL sometimes overreaches. Outside this year’s draft venue, the league rolled out the “gold carpet” (in reference to the golden anniversary of the Super Bowl). Here was a place for deep and thoughtful conversation…

Reporter to Jim Kelly’s daughter: “Rex Ryan is a very exciting guy! You must be really excited!!” Jim Kelly’s daughter: “So excited!!!” (I mention this particular exchange in case you were wondering what happened to all the exclamation marks in the world.)

It got worse. At one point, an NFL Network correspondent squinted into the distance and shouted: “Finally, someone has arrived!” Later, after yet more idleness, the decision was made to go to a commercial. But wait! Over yonder! Is that a football player or for that matter any living human being with the power of speech approaching? “Hold on, we’re live, I see somebody coming—are we… no? No, we’re still waiting.”

Televised draft coverage demands that an army of experts work together in tandem—and that’s just to subdue Mel Kiper’s hairdo. This year, there were boasts made about “16 draft war-room cameras providing behind-the-scenes access,” which represented a real breakthrough for every NFL fan who enjoys watching people sit in chairs and also sometimes stand up.

But some things never change, like the absence of pessimism. Everyone and everything is awesome at the draft—it’s the Super Bowl of thinking you’ve got a shot to go to the Super Bowl. The strangest compliment of the first round? “He will not shy away from the bright lights of Tampa,” analyst Mike Mayock said of No. 1 pick Jameis Winston. Ah, yes, the searing glare of fame in West Florida! One wonders: What athlete could endure the stress of playing for a chronically inept franchise in the nation’s 14th-largest media market?

Later, a reporter began an interview with Winston by handing the QB “a special NFL Draft football, monogrammed with your name on it, so congratulations.” Is this a thing now? Are reporters required to bring a gift to interviews? I guess if David Amber wants a word at the intermission with Ryan Getzlaf, he’d best stock up on Drakkar Noir and After Eights.

This awkward gift moment was worth it, though, because it allowed the reporter to ask Winston the hard-hitting question on everyone’s mind: “How special was it for you to be here?” Turns out it was pretty special! What a relief to finally have closure on that.

Alas, in the end, the 2015 draft lacked pizzazz. Jerry Jones broke with tradition and failed to almost do something catastrophic. Meanwhile, the Jets and Browns made first-round picks that seemed downright sensible. It was hard to know how to react. Kind of like walking into a Hollywood party to find Lindsay Lohan and Tara Reid at the kitchen table, quietly playing backgammon.

You stare for a moment and go, “Huh. Not what I expected.” And you head home fighting the urge to feel disappointed by it all.

This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.

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