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Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Draft is Upon Us!

No, not the military draft you paranoids, (Checks window for black helicopters...thought so...nothing!) The NFL Draft. For those of you outside the United States who prefer the other football, I salute you (though I quite like gridiron as well and am a Dallas Cowboys fan from childhood), and also want to remind you that the NFL stands for National Football League, i.e. the home of the Super Bowl.

Every year the NFL gets together and holds a draft of available players. Unlike professional sports in other countries, where players are either voluntarily apprenticed to teams or are treated as free agents from the start, the home of the world's most successful democracy and free-market economy raffles athletes off, one by one, to the franchises in line to choose them.

Anyway, to get a better feel for the draft, I decided to call up an old friend of a friend of a friend of my grandparents' butcher, who happens to be a leading NFL scout (according to Uncle Reggie, who heard it from his e-mail pen pal in Kazakstan). He didn't want to go "on the record", so to protect his identity, I shall refer to him as Marsha.

Earl: Marsha, tell us what the purpose of the draft is for each team and for the league in general.

Marsha: Each team wants to get players it needs to fill weaknesses and to give it an advantage on the field. The league wants to prevent guys who've spent their lives playing football from settling the matter by figuring out who can beat each other's skull into a bloody pulp first. You have to realize that the league is mostly run by lawyers.

Earl: Ah, so a swift dagger to the ribs rather than the blunt instrument approach.

Marsha: Exactly, whatever that means. You have to remember that I was a football guy as well. I'd just as soon give a forearm shiver to the mealy-mouthed, Armani-suited peons. I like bloody pulp.

Earl: An understandably lucid if obdurate point of view.

Marsha: Please don't conduct the interview in Latin, Earl. I barely speak English.

Earl: Riiiiight...Anyway, what kind of players is the NFL looking for?

Marsha: Strong. Also fast. Preferably strong and fast.

Earl: How about their tactical intelligence, their cunning on the field?

Marsha: I said fast already.

Earl: How effective would you say each team is in selecting the players it needs?

Marsha: Oh, it's totally the luck of the draw. I mean, we know all these guys are pretty good.

Earl: Yes, but don't the teams spend enormous sums of time and money evaluating players?

Marsha: It gets us out of the office. Most of us are used to running around on a big, lush field. You have no idea how boring sitting behind a big desk can be in the off-season.

Earl: So most teams have no idea what kind of players they're getting.

Marsha: Well, we do read Mel Kiper.

Earl: That explains a lot.

My thanks to Marsha for a candid, if depressing perspective on the draft. This summer I hope to interview an scout for the NBA draft to try and find out why that league is so focused on players who are very tall and shoot the basketball so well.

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