I told my Herald-Leader colleagues where I’d be and what I’d be doing. They asked, “Are you serious?” What could I say? Back then, I was something of a draft addict. One of my first projects at the paper was a three-part series on the 1978 draft. Part 2 was an interview with the famous Gil Brandt, then employed by the Cowboys. A week after our talk, a package from Dallas arrived in the office. Gregarious Gil had sent this cub reporter an official Cowboys pen. Pretty sure it’s still a drawer, albeit sans ink.
I bought, without reimbursement, Joel Buchsbaum’s “Scout’s Notebook,” published under the aegis of Pro Football Weekly, although he wasn’t a scout. He was the first draftnik. I called Brooklyn and interviewed the man himself. As the Mel Kiper before anybody heard of Mel Kiper, Buchsbaum was given airtime on early ESPN draftcasts. He died at age 48 in 2002.
By then, Kiper — originally billed as "Mel Kiper Jr." — was ESPN's draftnik-in-chief. In 1994, then-Colts GM Bill Tobin, irked because his selection of Trev Alberts drew criticism, made him a legend. Said Tobin: "Who the hell is Mel Kiper? … Mel Kiper has no more credentials to do what he's doing than my neighbor, and my neighbor's a postman, and he doesn't even have season tickets." (I was in the Falcons' press room in Suwanee as that aired. The place was howling.)
Twenty-six years later, Mel remains in place. In pre-virus days, the draft had grown into Godzilla, becoming a Super-Bowl-without-the-game for the host city. (Yes, three’s now a “host city.”) A writer for the Tennessean described the draft’s presence in Nashville last year as the biggest sporting event in state history, which led me to wonder: The draft is clearly something, but is it an actual event?
In our time of COVID-19, the draft — even without the street parties — is an upper-case Event. I’ve since modified my draft-watching, largely because there’s only so much banter I can bear. (The tipping point came when Chris Berman asked a player chosen by a Southern franchise, “Were you looking to go warmth?”) But now I’m like everyone else: I’m starving for sports, or at least what can pass for it.
Besides, Draft 2020 should be intriguing. Roger Goodell will be hosting from his basement, which also includes his laundry room. ("I may have to change a couple of loads," he told the Wall Street Journal.) There are no war rooms. There's no green room. The Falcons have an emergency generator at the ready in the event of storms. Lions GM Bob Quinn will have an IT person stationed in a Winnebago in his driveway. BetOnline is giving 8-to-1 odds the virtual draft will be hacked.
I’ll watch. Pretty sure you will, too. Who the hell is Mel Kiper? Well, for three days, he’ll be king of our much-less-wide world of sports.