NFL draft’s a bore but players’ futures ‘intriguing’

Apr 25, 2006 2:54 AM

I want to thank all of you who called and wrote inviting me to join you for the NFL draft telecast this coming weekend. It was kind and thoughtful of you, but I have something more exciting on my schedule. I’m committed to watching a knitting tournament on the Internet.

I will think of you between stitches, and sympathize with your long and boring ordeal in watching grass grow on ESPN.

The NFL draft, and the NBA’s as well, are non-events, created for television. It is totally fitting that the NFL show is presented in Radio City Music Hall. It is a slow-moving theatrical production, not a sports event, although the NFL and ESPN have done a super job in disguising it as one.

It is interesting, of course, to see all these muscled young men decked out in finery, with stylish coats and ties, waiting to become wealthy overnight. They make an impressive bunch, these big strong guys, many of them overnight fashion plates, some of them looking like they wouldn’t harm a fly, but in actuality capable of breaking your neck with one hand tied behind their back.

The most fearsome looking of all, to me, is Oregon’s Haloti Ngata, with the G silent. He pronounces his name Notta, and he’s notta guy to fool with. The meanest looking dude in town, at 6-4 and 338, he would make the best bodyguard in the world, and he may be the best defensive tackle in this draft.

As for the headliners, I am happy for Vince Young and Reggie Bush and particularly for Matt Leinart. If Matt doesn’t make it in the pros because of a shoulder that already has been operated on twice and now faces the rigors of professional pounding, he can return to LA and sign with MGM or Paramount or an independent producer and star as a Hollywood heartthrob. This guy is the best looking prospect the NFL has seen in years, movie star pretty.

Young and Bush could be set whether they ever take a snap or run a yard. Young has a reported $10 million contract waiting with NetSpend, a prepaid credit card company you may never have heard of, and Bush has signed for millions with Subway, where you may have snacked. Both deals presumably contain performance clauses, but it’s nice to have backups that take care of the future.

I am intrigued, along with many others, as to whether Jay Cutler of Vanderbilt may be the best of the quarterbacks, having played as he did with a bunch of guys named Joe. He may or may not make it —my guess is that he will — but you have to like a kid who shuts off his TV to keep out the noise of the draft, noting truthfully, "You’ll drive yourself nuts." He can throw a ball from Vegas to Pahrump, and if learns the lessons that he will be taught in the NFL and gets a strong line in front of him, he will be big time.

This may be the best crop of NFL prospects in years, and there seems little doubt that those mentioned — Young and Leinart and Bush and Cutler — all not only will make the grade but will be stars.

Watching them get drafted to see where they are headed, however, is not a sports event. It may be a pleasant way to drink beer and eat chips and pretzels, but it is little more than a day-killer. Or two.

A whole cottage industry has grown up around it — the mock draft — with its countless experts who diagnose each team’s needs, each player’s strengths and weaknesses, including personality flaws, of which there are many. A number of these big kids already have had brushes with the law, and the celebrity and fortune awaiting them this weekend will test their resolve.

The issue of some of these athletes sacrificing their college education for the pros is a separate matter. The lure of wealth, combined with the risks and dangers of finishing a college career, can be lethal. On the other hand, once you have 5 or 10 million stashed away, reading and writing and rithmetic may be incidental.