This just in: The National Football League is hiring! But unless you’re about 20 years old and have been preparing for the NFL your entire life, you’re better off watching the draft live on TV with millions of other fans. Commentator Victor Wishna explains why in this month’s edition of 'A Fan’s Notes.'
Don’t let the calendar fool you. Fans feel that distinct chill in the air, which can only mean one thing: Football season is here.
Perhaps you didn’t realize that the NFL year officially begins this Thursday night, with the first pick of the NFL Draft.
Of course, in some ways the season never ended. Coaching changes and free-agency moves have dotted the sports headlines off and on since the Super Bowl. One of the most replayed highlights from the Final Four showcased a beaming, biceps-flexing Patrick Mahomes — who, by the way, happens to be launching his own brand of breakfast cereal, just FYI.
The NFL Combine — a weeklong affair in which top prospects sprint around in their skivvies for a crowd of coaches and scouts — has become a televised spectacle with play-by-play and color commentary. Even the release of the upcoming schedule got its own three-hour primetime special on the NFL Network.
And now comes the draft, after weeks of speculation and what Sports Illustrated caustically approximates as more than five million mock drafts by their own so-called experts. Yes, even the big mockers themselves are mocking all the mocking. On Thursday, ABC, ESPN, and the NFL Network will carry every moment of Round One for an expected viewership of more than 11 million.
There’s no question it’s gotten a little ridiculous. After all, this is just a business transaction. For decades, the NFL Player Selection Meeting was a closed-door affair, held in the back ballroom of a hotel in New York or Chicago, and only occasionally made it into the next day’s sports page.
Today, it’s a traveling exhibition, with cities bidding to host as if it were, well, the Super Bowl. Kansas City was a finalist to host each of the last two years, and the circus may yet come to town, sooner rather than later.
The hype is obnoxious, but sports is entertainment, and there’s good reason to give into the fanfare — and not just because the player’s duds will be flashier than any uniform, a bright mishmash of pastels, pocket squares, and aspirational bling.
There is the inherent fairness to the whole thing. The draft was established in the 1930s as a way to give teams equitable access to players, so that those few with the deepest pockets and most prestigious names couldn’t hoard all the talent. The model holds to this day, with the neediest among the league getting first crack at the next superstars. Bernie Sanders, Deion Sanders — that’s the kind of socialism that everyone can get behind.
But above all, it’s a celebration of potential, a concept that, underneath our political and economic inequity, is still woven into our national DNA. What is the American Dream other than a stubborn insistence that what could be matters far more than what has been.
For all the league’s focus on spectacle and clichés about life-changing moments, the NFL Draft actually has lots of them. In one instant, so much fulfillment: of a young player’s dream, a family’s fortunes, maybe even the hopes of an entire city’s fanbase.
September will mark the beginning of the NFL’s 100th season — the 50th since Kansas City last played in a Super Bowl. So in that context, it’s hard not to feel a little sense of urgency. Remember, the first game is only 139 days away.
Victor Wishna is a writer, editor and sports fan. He lives in Leawood.