There was a time when the college football draft was no big deal, just a hiccup in the off-season when the next community of players was divided up by the teams in the National Concussion League.
But in these modern times, everything is a big deal, especially in professional football. And so it came to be that the college draft graduated from a couple of hours on a conference call linking the teams in the league offices to a full blown Hollywood spectacle.
League offices? Are you kidding? This thing is so big that they held it in a stadium. And not any old stadium, either. They put it in Jerry Jones’ playground in Dallas, which is the league’s largest, splashiest ball yard.
Nothing less would do.
They opened with a couple of Cowboy Hall of Famers, Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman, tossing souvenir footballs into the adoring crowd. This diverted attention for the moment from the chorus of boos showered down on the not-so-popular commissioner Roger Goodell.
Then came the drama. Here were the Cleveland Browns, equipped with the spoils of their winless season, picking at No. 1. They had three months to mull over the selection. They still needed the full 10 minutes to finally announce that Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was their man.
Now, the high profile picks go fast, gobbled up in the first round. And they were – Saquon Barkley to the New York Giants, Sam Darnold to the New York Jets, Bradley Chubb to Denver. Ten picks in and all the fancy quarterbacks — Mayfield, Darnold , Josh Allen (to Buffalo) and Josh Rosen (to Arizona) – were gone. That would suggest that subsequent rounds would be ho-hum stuff, loaded with players known only to scouts. Well, we can’t have that. So the league saw to it that the remaining rounds would have a little something extra to break up the monotony.
In the second round, Philadelphia owned the No. 40 pick and dispatched ex-Eagles kicker David Akers to announce the choice. In the heart of Cowboy country, Akers went about needling the Dallas faithful, reminding them that the Super Bowl championship trophy resides in Philadelphia and that most of the players being chosen weren’t born the last time the Cowboys played in the Super Bowl.
Then we have the saga of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their pet parrot, Zsa Zsa. The Bucs thought it would be a cool idea to have Zsa Zsa announce their fourth round pick. That’s different.
Well, maybe not announce it, but at least be there. And Zsa Zsa was right there, sitting on a lady Bucs’ shoulder as she welcomed safety Jordan Whitehead into the Tampa Bay family.
It’s the most attention a 117th pick has ever received.
But the real drama came earlier. That fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers when they invited linebacker Ryan Shazier to announce their first round selection.
Shazier was nearly paralyzed in a game last December. He is recovering from a spinal contusion and walked haltingly up to the podium, supported by his fiancée.
It was pure drama.
Or perhaps it was pure reality for the other draftees in the stadium that night to see what can happen to you when you play in this league.