Above Average Thoughts From An Average Guy
“Are we going to the draft?”
That’s the question that was asked every year. Of all the empty promises I never follow through on, this was among the most long-standing. That’s just my nature. It’s not so much procrastination as complacency resulting from a lack of a sense of urgency. I mean well, but I also know that if history is any indicator, I’m probably not seeing your new house or apartment, meeting your new baby or girlfriend, attending your alumni dinner, or stopping by if I’m ever in the area. If I say I’m updating a blog post this week, it’s updated three weeks later. My goal was to finish shredding and filing a heaping stack of papers that built up in my room by the end of April…of last year. The idea of attending an NFL Draft was half-heartedly tossed around since high school, and was at least considered in a semi-legitimate way by my friend and fellow draft junkie O Vas and I for the past five years. But it had remained just that: a consideration.
But the question greater than “Are we going to the draft?” was: Why aren’t we going to the draft? John Lennon famously said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Yet somehow after all these years, I had it both ways: life was happening to me and I was never making any fucking plans. That ended in 2012.
With both our franchises at a crossroads, with two once-in-a-generation quarterback prospects about to redefine the NFL for the next decade, and with the gradual degradation in the quality of draft telecasts, this was the year. No weaseling out. Time to knock one off the bucket list. The Super Bowl may be the NFL’s marquee event, but the draft is like its convention: It’s the hub of all NFL-related activity in the middle of a fallow period with no on-field activity, and representatives from all teams are in attendance.
What follows is a two night photo essay of what transpired at the annual event. In some cases, future championship teams were built last Thursday. In others, it merely served as a way for huckster owners and general managers to peddle unsuspecting fans piles of crap packaged as lucrative commodities like nobody this side of Goldman Sachs.
(All photos were taken by me, so we might be making Between the Beers history in doing our first post with no technical copyright infringement. Although since SOPA failed, Getty Images can’t have us thrown in the gulag for grabbing a LeBron James photo without permission anyway. With that in mind, look for Mike’s latest post, “NEW AVENGERS MOVIE-FULL XVID SCREENER RIP” tomorrow.)
(While we’re at it, props to the NFL for a very accommodating and pleasantly surprising photography policy the entire two days, both in their store and inside the venue. They could’ve been dicks about this and adopted a hardline, police state attitude pertaining to the dissemination of photos but they didn’t. Anyway, disregard this message if they have our site taken down next week.)
Our journey really began weeks before, as we raided the clearance section of all officially licensed NFL merchandise retailers for the detritus of the Reebok era before welcoming our new Nike corporate overlords onto our football apparel. I placed an order online and acquired all the essentials when we made the decision to attend.
First, I got myself a clearance Jake Long jersey. Offensive linemen are always the safest investments (even after this story came out I stand by the purchase). It makes you appear like a more dedicated fan for paying homage to an unsung hero and it’s a safe bet a lineman, if elite, will be on the team for ten years. (Orlando Pace and Jonathan Ogden jersey owners are nodding right now, while Brandon Marshall jersey owners are trying to recoup what they can from their investment on eBay.)
Also in the order was a new Dolphins mouse pad and a Tim Tebow decal. The decal served as both a fitting tribute to the unfairly marginalized and persecuted quarterback who will ascend to his rightful throne once more on the city’s biggest stage and prove his doubters wrong, and also was the cheapest clearance item I could find to meet the minimum total for free shipping.
But my jersey paled in comparison to what O Vas would wear Thursday night. As many of you know, one of my favorite when-I’m-bored pastimes is trying to see what funny stuff can bypass the NFL’s custom jersey restrictions. They’re pretty strict—for example, a Jets/Dirty Sanchez/#6 jersey does not work—but this one was so obscure it just had to. Tipped off to this term via an interview with the late, great comedian Patrice O’Neal, “Angry Pirate” and the obligatory #69 were permissible, and thus a necessary purchase to debut on draft night. It was even more fitting given the fact that O Vas is a Bucs fans and thus, the pirate connection would allow it to go right over most people’s heads. I won’t elaborate on what this term means if you’re unfamiliar, but you can look it up on Urban Dictionary or watch O’Neal explain it in the clip (at the 4:45 mark). I wouldn’t dare repeat the definition here. This is a family site you sick bastards.
While we’re at it, here are some other funny jerseys I was going to have NFL Shop customize for me before I settled on a boring Jake Long one:
“Fire Ireland” (Duh.)
“Bounty Hunter” (I might not have been allowed in, since they seemed to go out of their way to whitewash anything related to the Saints this week. More on that later.)
“Collins, #34” (A homage to Cecil Collins, one of my favorite Dolphins busts. The man Jimmy Johnson once called “a faster Emmitt Smith,” Collins later was sentenced to 15 years for breaking into a woman’s home, with his defense being he just wanted to watch her sleep. This would’ve only been funny to the five people who remember him though.)
“Luck, #12” (A Dolphins Andrew Luck jersey. For the fan still in denial.)
While we’re here, with Nike officially becoming the authorized NFL jersey distributor this week, I propose they relax the customization rules and allow me to purchase these five to go along with “Angry Pirate”:
“Rusty Trombone, #69” (Saints)
“Cleveland Steamer, #69” (Browns)
“Spread Eagle, #69” (Eagles)
“Reverse Cowgirl, #69” (Cowboys)
“Buffalo Bricklayer, #69” (Bills) (Also, this doesn’t exist. Someone invent a definition for this term. Try to incorporate mortar.)
Once we arrived in Manhattan, our first stop of the night was the NFL’s pop up store, located at 42nd street, 6th Avenue on the way to Radio City Music Hall, for this month only.
I know we all have to pretend JaMarcus Russell never happened, but don’t drag Jake Long into your crappy 2007 draft, NFL.
In addition to serving as a way to promote the league’s new partnership with New Era and Nike, the store was full of great and/or inane memorabilia.
This was a shirt for sale featuring a generic, faceless Dolphins draft pick. The guy on the shirt has already had a more productive Dolphins career than Pat White.
Another bad sign for Tebow: The mannequin is the -125 favorite to finish with a higher completion percentage.
Seriously, I want Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan to hold this shirt while they look into the cameras and say Tebow’s the backup and Sanchez is our starter.
Giants Connect 4. For the Giants fan in your life straddling the fine line between superfan and full-blown hoarder.
For the record, after thoroughly scouring the store, I ultimately settled on three things:
1. A New Era cap (the first one in ages to fit my abnormally large head—albeit barely).
2. A Dolphin pillow pal (the greatest thing ever—and I’m including computers, vaccines, and pizza with hot dogs stuffed inside the crust when I say “greatest”). The thing expands to 18 inches (not visible in the picture) and serves as a great decorative item and a killer throw pillow. It’s not a good sign that my favorite Dolphins right now are Long, Cameron Wake, and the pillow pal. And I’m not even sure that’s the order.
3. An NFL sticker book. For a $2 throw-in at the register I figured I could do worse, but this thing was a gyp. I was expecting some decent assorted decals when really it’s Cracker Jack box-quality. And by 2011 they mean 2010. This thing was clearly printed before the lockout, since I don’t recall Chad Ochocinco catching passes for the Bengals last season (he didn’t catch passes for the Patriots either, but that’s beside the point). To top it off, there were barely any stickers. The few included run the gamut from a two-time Super Bowl MVP to Colin fucking Kaepernick. If you see this at the register next year, be prepared to collect your Kirk Cousins sticker!
I didn’t think I’d need two oversized bags, but I ended up shoving more stuff in there than I could have imagined, and a homeless guy is probably taking a shit in the other one right now. It keeps on giving (or in the latter case, receiving).
Yes, the NFL store allowed you the opportunity to recreate the experience of an NFL draft pick minus the awkward Goodell hug and having a wife and/or kids at age 22 for some reason.
This was the NFL’s paean to Chicago. It pretty much pays homage to Chicagoans in the most blatantly prejudiced and stereotypical way imaginable—Bears, deep-dish pizza, crumpled sports section, bratwurst, beers on ice, Bears—and yet there’s probably some guy in a 4X Willie Gault throwback jersey and a George Wendt voice whose eyes are welling up at the beauty of it.
This was the replay stand. A man invited us over to take a turn evaluating an NFL play on the spot and then watching the booth review to see if our call was correct. It was a Panthers fumble that was pretty clearly a fumble. We were both right.
We were asked what percentage of plays the NFL officials get right. O Vas guessed 85 percent. I said 75 percent.
“98 percent,” the surrogate referee responded.
That’s probably statistically true. It also wasn’t clear whether they get that percentage right after taking into account replay reviews or if we’re only talking about the initial call on the field. And I don’t know if that counts only close, questionable plays or if the refs get credit for every obvious incompletion.
Either way, it seemed kind of self-congratulatory for the officials to make sure we knew that at their booth.
We each walked away with a free knockoff mini Nerf football though. Well worth it. (Pictured above along with my other stuff.)
Here’s the accompanying sign to recruit people to join the NFL Officiating Academy. I thought this would provide some comedic fodder, but it’s pretty legit. The only quibble is with #4: “You can become a role model…Officials can influence their peers in a positive way.” I don’t want to call that vague, but name ONE job that doesn’t provide you that opportunity—excluding investment bankers of course. (We’re up to two jabs at Wall Street. Let’s keep it going.)
Yes, Giants fans, there was a security guard on hand at all times. Are you kidding? Leave that thing unattended and Warren Sapp would have it up on eBay by sunrise. (I know, too soon.)
Let’s hope this isn’t the closest someone in a Dolphins jersey ever gets to one of these.
A helmet autographed by all of the 1972 Dolphins. I spent at least three minutes plotting an Ocean’s Eleven-type heist to snatch it.
Seriously, soak it in.
One of the lingering mysteries of the NFL store: Who or what is Tervis? Why are they so modestly promising only five seconds of serious fun? This sign was conspicuously placed at the foot of the entrance to the stairs up to the second floor yet didn’t elaborate on much.
When we got upstairs, our mystery was far from resolved. There were only a handful of things present in the Tervis area: a display of NFL team cups; a storage unit filled with plastic drawers for each team; and a giant machine that looked like one of those devices that would stretch a penny and press an image onto it. (There’s a shoebox in your parents’ basement full of those things right now, trust me.)
It was almost closing time in the store and the security guard directed us back downstairs.
“Any idea what this Tervis Experience is all about?” I inquire.
He smiles and gives me a shrug.
For all of Tervis’s bold promises, it seemed to provide more questions than answers. Five seconds of serious fun had turned into a night’s worth of befuddlement and confusion.
A view of the bright lights of Radio City. After a quick stop at the gyro stand (arguably New York’s most consistent on-the-go dining option—portable Styrofoam packaging and all), we were headed toward the line. It appeared pretty sizeable considering we were there a full two hours before the time listed on the instructions pertaining to when fans should begin lining up. There were already two sidewalks full of people barricaded off. We ducked into the third section. In retrospect, the line clearly wasn’t anywhere near the 4,000-seat capacity, but of course we all spent the beginning doing a futile attempt at a head count even as past draft attendees and the security personnel on hand confidently assured us we were getting in.
Mmm, she’s radiant!
For those looking to enjoy this experience next year, the process is quite simple: Wait on this line, get a wristband, come back the next night, and exchange the wristband for a ticket directing you to a randomly assigned seat. (The wristband merely guarantees you a spot. You could be first in line ten hours before and still get an obstructed view seat in the back left corner of the third mezzanine. It’s both fair and dickish at the same time.)
For all of the meticulous planning and lucky breaks during our trek, I only walked away with three things I would absolutely do differently if I could do it over again. I’ll get to the other two later (since they hadn’t arisen yet), but the first took place early. As we walked to take our place at the back of the line—mind you, decked out in our Dolphins and Bucs garb from head to toe—the people already on line loudly started raining boos on both of us. It sounds horrifying to have 1,000 people hurling insults at you, but the only regret I have is not having my camera ready because this walk of shame was a historic experience and really fucking funny. (The man shouting “Josh Freeman can suck my dick” toward O Vas was probably the most excessive, until you remember the heckler was voicing his desire for gay fellatio. In fairness, he was probably drunk.) Unfortunately, the whole thing caught me off guard and it was over before I could capture video.
The reason it was particularly enjoyable, as we later realized, was that the whole thing is oddly egalitarian. Pretty much every fan booed every other fan of a team different from their own. The harshest taunts were reserved for the Cowboys and anything associated with Tebow. But really everyone had their turn, with no one person evoking any more or less vitriol than anyone else.
A perfect example: This Browns fan got into a fun little back and forth with a Colts fan on how much Cleveland sucks. If it’s not a testament to the absolute bottomless pit the Cleveland sporting scene is currently wallowing in, the Colts fan got a “Cleveland sucks” cheer started from our section…
…And the Browns fan replied by cheerfully filming the entire episode. It was like verbal masochism.
I feel even worse about Trent Richardson’s inevitable torn knee ligament after witnessing this.
Then again, I can relate to the Browns fan’s feelings after being serenaded with boos upon my entrance to the back of the line and loving it: When you’re no longer in denial that your franchise is a joke, you do engage in this form of sports-inspired self-loathing. I booed everyone by the end, even fellow Dolphins fans. Although I did appreciate the guy whose choice of apparel was a Dolphins sweater.
“What the fuck you need a sweater for in South Florida?” asked the gentleman next to me.
I lived in South Florida almost 12 years. I had no good answer.
To further illustrate the extent to which no one got by the serenade of boos, even people with no team affiliation didn’t go unscathed. A group of gentlemen, two of whom were wearing bow ties, passed by toward the end.
“Bowties suck.” “Bowties suck.”
Somehow we missed a guy wearing an ascot. We whiffed on a a slow pitch softball down the middle with that one.
Among other creative fans were the one who, after running out of people to get autographs from, decided to lower his standards and get autographs from anyone who stopped at the nearby traffic light. Anyone. Garbage truck drivers, cabbies, Hansom cab patrons. Surprisingly, most obliged. (I should point out there was a boisterous mob egging them on.)
About an hour in, we started to notice some NFL Network cameramen capturing live shots of the fans.
After that, we ended up getting some visitors. The NFL Network crew started greeting fans. First, Rich Eisen passed by to say hello.
Next, Michael Irvin greeted the line. I missed my chance at a photo (he’s barely visible in the back of this shot), but fans huddled en masse for a chance to meet the Hall of Famer.
Next was a big one we were ready for. Myself, O Vas, and the commissioner himself.
Roger Goodell happily accepted our request for a photo. Unfortunately, several things went wrong. First, my digital camera battery died a little earlier (I don’t mean ran out. Died. Battery pack has to be replaced) so it was on to the iPhone all night. Now as someone who only belatedly entered the world of smart phones this year, I like having the option of a quality camera built into a device I have on me at all times anyway, but I’m not too keen on having it as my sole piece of photography equipment. Second, we had approximately 2.5 seconds to get a photo off, with three other people trying to get in on it. Third, despite never having used it as long as I’ve owned the phone, it got switched to video mode. Of course.
The silver lining of video mode being on was it allowed me to grab a screenshot and use it as a photo, while also capturing audio of the line Goodell got off before we snapped the photo.
“Are you gonna recognize that nose?” Goodell said jokingly. Now, let’s be clear: That’s obviously a self-deprecating joke directed at himself that he probably used every fifth photo (or at least when he was far enough away that fans couldn’t hear him recycling material). But as you see, in order to get the photo, I was only able to muster up a profile view of myself. You’ll also notice that the Yaros schnozz is exceptionally noticeable when seen from that angle, and Carlos Beltran hasn’t ponied up for my rhinoplasty yet. So can we run with the .0000000000000001% chance the commissioner was taking an underhanded shot at my nose and its visibility from a satellite view? Of course!
DAMN YOU GOODELL!
(All kidding aside, for all of the rightful criticism Goodell receives—which I’ve dispensed and will continue to dispense on this blog—you clearly get the impression he’s a man who sincerely loves his job. Even sacrificing an hour for a no-brainer public relations move like this and shaking a few hands, taking a few photos, and signing a few autographs as a small thank you to the people who fork over massive amounts of money to his league and look the other way as his labor force’s brains turn to gelatin is a cool gesture. I mean, we’d still give his league all our time and money if he didn’t do shit like this. Even if it was just a 2.5 second allotment of time to take a photo. And even if he clearly wanted to make a “What happens when Yaros walks into a wall with an erection? He breaks his nose” joke. DAMN YOU! And that ends my mildly sycophantic defense of Goodell.)
Our final guest was my favorite underrated coach (along with Brian Billick), former 49ers and Lions boss Steve Mariucci.
He happily accepted our request for a photo as well, as this exchange actually took place between him and O Vas (paraphrased):
O Vas: We beat you on the way to the Super Bowl in 2003.
Mariucci: Yeah, Sapp still gives me crap about that game.
O Vas: Yeah, well, he can’t afford to now.
I enjoy a nice uncomfortable laugh. Mariucci asks Vas what he would like the Bucs to do with their pick.
Yes, O Vas squeezed a subtle Sapp/bankruptcy joke in.
(In retrospect, the most uncomfortable line Vas could’ve went with was “The Bucs beat you that year, and Sapp’s got the rings to prove it!”)
(I later ponder which NFL Network personality in the news would’ve made a bigger mistake showing up, Warren Sapp or Deion Sanders. The answer is obvious: None of us had the balls to make a Pilar Sanders joke, who am I kidding? Sapp’s loveable enough where he may have taken it in stride unless we started throwing singles at him or giving him Cash for Gold business cards or something. Let’s move on.)
This sequence of events encompassed the second thing I would do differently. Thanks to everyone from my colleagues on this site to the alarmist, fear-mongering media to O Vas himself the night of, there’s all this talk of iPhone theft. But needless to say, I’m the one who bought this heaping pile of fetid, fly-ridden horse shit. So when Vas states, “yeah, watch someone run off with your iPhone after they take the picture,” I actually take it seriously and proceed to struggle to shoot even sub-mediocre photos rather than simply ask one of the many people standing right next to me to take the shot.
Because a rational person—which I consider myself to be—actually thought this scenario was plausible: One of the many people on line looking to attend the NFL Draft—a person who has already waited two hours for tickets and made small talk with me at some point—used the entire event as a ruse to feign gregariousness and lull me into a false sense of security as he bided his time until a photo opportunity came along in which someone would need him to take a group picture using a camera phone, which would then give the man the opportunity to run off on a crowded, well-lit city street surrounded by 4,000 people, dozens of security guards, and TV cameras to get a five foot head start on stealing one of the 1,000+ visible iPhones.
Yes, THAT prevented me from posing properly in these photos. Seriously, why do I listen to you fuckers? If I was worried about someone stealing everything of value and leaving me holding the bill, I would’ve went to Wall Street. (That’s three!)
If anything, I walked away gaining an appreciation for the Blake Livelys and Scarlett Johanssons of the world. Getting quality shots of yourself while holding an iPhone away from you is NOT. EASY. AT. ALL. I mean, I have difficulty taking crotch shots yet these starlets can capture quality angles of their full body. Those cell phone leaks were their best work on camera in years. (Kidding!)
In the 10-11 p.m. hour, attendants started handing out freebies. First we received a foam finger, then a small placard promoting the television broadcast of the draft, then something advertising the Visa NFL Extra Points card. I then realized that these “giveaways” were really just efforts to turn us all into walking billboards shilling for the league’s corporate partners. And it worked!
(I may have accidentally signed off on changing our blog’s name to Between the Visa Pepsi Max Doritos Verizon Wireless Papa John’s SiriusXM. Sorry guys.)
At various points, they also tossed out chips and refreshments. Most intriguingly, a pizza showed up at around 10:30 p.m. We couldn’t figure out if someone actually ordered a pie and had it delivered to the line (smart) or if the pizza guy just headed down there with a warm cheese pie and engaged in a bit of highway robbery by unloading a pizza on a group of desperate, tired, hungry football fans (smarter). I wondered how much I could get for the extra bag of Doritos in my backpack. Probably enough to save Warren Sapp’s lion skin rug.
The night began to wind down and the line slowly started to move.
We finally caught sight of the wristbands around 11:30 p.m. We weren’t really ever close to the front, and yet the line behind us as we exited looked just as long as it did when we entered. I’d hate to be the guy who got turned away. Scratch that: I’d hate to be the guy who had to turn that guy away.
But nothing else mattered. My hirsute arm was wrapped in a flimsy, easily destructible, shower-precluding wristband.
We knew exactly where we’d be Thursday night.
THURSDAY, DRAFT NIGHT:
Our trip Thursday began at the Seaford stop of the Long Island Rail Road. For our readers unfamiliar with Long Island life, the Long Island Rail Road is a dirty, slow, uncomfortable, overpriced means of mass transportation that you will absolutely take 100 times out of 100 because you’d rather lick Keith Richards’s toilet seat than drive to and from Manhattan.
(The Long Island Rail Road recently banned alcohol on trains leaving Penn Station between midnight and 5 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. I don’t want to say this country has a drinking problem, but that story really shouldn’t be New York Times-worthy.)
We were returning with a functioning camera after my dad loaned me his Panasonic Lumix with the killer 16X optical zoom. You’ll see the difference, based on the fact you can see anything considering where we ended up sitting.
This is me in a train bathroom. There’s probably only a .01% chance of a homeless person sleeping in there when you enter, but this thought still enters your mind every time you go.
Also, there is no functioning sink. Everyone clearly knows you didn’t wash your hands upon exiting.
Here’s a surgical glove in the garbage can. Yes, in the garbage can of the train bathroom. I’ll let you all ponder the possibilities of what the fuck that could possibly be doing in there.
I’d like to know who would spend enough time in a train bathroom to use any one of these things. If someone can tolerate being in there more than 45 seconds, it qualifies as an “If you see something, say something” moment.
(Did I just spend three photos of an article on the NFL Draft dissecting the anatomy of a train car bathroom? You’re goddamn right I did! Let’s move on, this could really be a separate post.)
(You need to read these next two captions in the vocal styling of any hack comic from the ‘80s.)
You know the difference between Long Island and New York? Long Islanders vandalize signs like this:
And New York City folk, see, they vandalize signs like this:
The second one was clever and took actual work and thought. Not hologram 2Pac clever, but still clever. In fairness, the first one is probably from an 8th grade dropout on the train out of Seaford, so I suppose I should be applauding the correct spelling of the word “mirror.”
Also, in Soviet Russia, sign vandalize you! (OK, we’re done with the hack comic bit.)
Other than the draft, where doors opened at 6:40 p.m., we began our second day with two goals: browse the new Nike jerseys and Tervis. The cashier whom we paid for our hats the previous day informed us that the release of the new Nike gear Thursday meant they would finally have the full line of jerseys for sale and instant customization options. In addition, the draft picks themselves would be at the store in person, although he couldn’t specify a time. As part of our continued good fortune, we began shopping in the store and within 5 minutes were ushered to the other side of the room and velvet roped off, with only a cryptic description of a “presentation” taking place shortly. As it turned out, the NFL’s whole red carpet entrance shindig involving the draft picks began there.
With maybe forty of us in the store, the presentation commenced with each team’s official draft cap being escorted to Radio City. Then, with Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” blasting from the stereo system and interrupting NFL Network draft coverage for some unknown reason, actual people began to emerge.
(Even more odd was the next song, Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” a sort of on the nose choice considering we were dealing with a bunch of guys about to leave behind their roots and humble origins to enter a world of untold riches and hero worship, thus becoming “somebody that I used to know” to the many left behind in their old lives. Or maybe someone just blindly threw together a mix from whatever was on the iTunes top ten that morning. English majors read too much into this shit.)
First up is an out of focus and hand-in-front-of-my-camera shot of Andrew Luck.
Next came an ebullient RGIII, who even greeted the eager and enthusiastic Redskins fan next to me. (Since the NFL is dicks, that probably constitutes tampering or something.)
There he is, the object of my future praise/derision, Mr. Ryan Tannehill.
Terrell Davis was one of many NFL legends to appear as well. Earlier, someone standing next to us immediately identified Troy Brown. I’m sorry, I’m as avid an NFL viewer as anybody and I couldn’t spot Troy Brown at a 2001 Patriots receivers autograph show.
We were only able to identify the three quarterbacks. Imagine that! (Although we thought we spotted Brandon Weeden walking out with his grandkids.)
One interesting observation from seeing all this unfold in person: After going through the whole graduation/real life transition over the past year, it was weird watching all these guys go through the motions of the day. I soon realized it’s a much heavier, more meaningful experience than what comes across on TV. To us, these guys become random names in mock drafts. We watch ten seconds of their YouTube highlights then formulate an arbitrary ranking of where they should spend the first years of their career. To them, this is like their graduation, first job hiring, and first real move all at once. The hugs are genuine, the tears are sincere. Where they play is pretty anticlimactic in most cases, but it all still resonates at that moment, the culmination of a far-fetched and now all too real dream. Everything these guys do for the rest of their lives will be choreographed. They have to put on a tough facade as “warriors” at all times, utter the same bland, generic, unrevealing platitudes in interviews, and sublimate all honest feelings of triumph and frustration into perfunctory handshakes and inoffensive sound bites. The hugs, tears, nerves, fears, and loss for words on display draft night might be the last authentic moment the public ever sees from them.
Just a thought.
After seeing who we wanted to see, we ducked out to complete objective #2: TERVIS. Today, it was like a parallel universe: Rather than being shut down, dark, and mysterious, the Tervis Experience was wide open. Several attendants were on hand—including a fellow anti-Tannehill Dolphins fan. “Boo him,” were his exact words. Chalk him up to my side—to describe Tervis. Billed as “The World’s First Smart Cup” by the company’s web site, it apparently features a mechanism to keep your drinks hot and cold—depending on the beverage, of course—over an extended period. It also comes with a lifetime guarantee and is virtually indestructible. I’m dubious to all of that. I’m also overwhelmingly intrigued and mesmerized. How do we know such an invention won’t be the catalyst for a breakdown in the cold/hot equilibrium, facilitating complete upheaval of the entropy in the cup ecosystem! ARE YOU PEOPLE MAD? IS YOUR DESIRE FOR ADVANCEMENTS IN MODERN THERMODYNAMIC SCIENTIFIC BREAKTHROUGHS INSATIABLE?
Mystery solved. And yet, no.
A cold, rainy evening awaited us. We knew what time doors opened and were guaranteed admittance, so we didn’t arrive until around 6:20 p.m. We were nearly the last ones in line by time the final people showed up, meaning everyone arrived well in advance for tickets that were random to an event they were guaranteed entrance in weather that was shitty. Wow, the NFL has us whipped.
At about 7:30 p.m., we arrive in the main corridor of Radio City.
I’ve been frantically checking Twitter for any wheeling and dealing (O Vas and a Browns fan were already lamenting/celebrating the Trent Richardson trade). I also see we missed the booing of Goodell. I can personally attest to this next statement after witnessing it firsthand: I don’t know how many people booed Goodell, but I do know everyone was cowering and fawning in his presence and slobbering for autographs, handshakes, and photos the night before. Only when they’re part of a faceless, amorphous mass of people do they boo. Way to man up, Radio City.
It was a pretty chaotic scene inside. Our seats were in the very front of the third mezzanine—in other words, the best part of the worst part. Of course, in intimate venues like Radio City you can still see everything clear as day wherever you’re seated. Our slow entrance and some poor preparation by the draft organizers led to the third (and as it turned out, only) thing I’d do differently: We got no gift bags! Yes, everyone was supposed to receive a sack with everything from a shirt, pin, and towel to a draft scorecard, trading cards, a mouse pad, and other useless shit.
The friendly usher (a Chiefs fan) near our seats expressed disbelief. “They ran out?” he asked incredulously. “People were walking out of there with two each last year.”
My mistake was not getting to our seats immediately, obtaining one, and then doing everything else we had to do. I never thought they’d run out, and in all honesty they shouldn’t have. They lucked out that I was in a good mood. Normally, hell hath no fury like Yaros when he’s denied free shit. (Actually, who am I kidding? I wrote this four days later and I still sound bitter.)
On the way to our seats, after hearing snickers about “angry pirate” a few times on the way up, we meet the first guy who absolutely loved the custom jersey and wanted a picture. I’m simultaneously proud and frightened to be in on something this obscure.
“Does anyone else get it?” he asked.
Very few. Which is really a good and bad thing.
We’re there, we have our refreshments, we have our Internet, we’re ready to begin…
…And then we forget that like watching the draft at home, there’s not really much to do. It’s people handing in cards and reading names. We spent the majority of time on our phones, as I tried some early live tweeting while scanning scouting reports and trade rumors.
We begin. The Colts are on the clock…
…and first, the inevitable: One of two teams to have an elite, first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback for the past decade gets another highly lauded, blue-chip prospect. Pricks.
They tried to get cute with the music the whole time, even featuring several Verizon Wireless “You Pick the Song” interactive polls for the crowd. Some Indiana song played for the entire ten minutes Andrew Luck was introduced. Amazingly, it was nowhere near the worst song of the night. (That song came later. Sorry in advance, Rich.)
With the second pick…
…Robert Griffin III. I must say, the Redskins fans won the week. They were not only the most ecstatic at all times, but they completely swarmed this town. The Colts fans were happy, obviously, but far less excited, which is fitting. They’re replacing Peyton Manning after one year; the Skins are replacing Mark Rypien after twenty. If a fan of the Colts—one of three teams to really own the past decade from start to finish—tried in any way to play the tortured franchise card after one measly 2-14 season which allowed them to go from one great quarterback to another, they deserved to be hit over the head with their Donald Brown bobblehead. You’re only allowed to be successful for so long and complain when your fortunes take an almost imperceptible dip if you’re on Wall Street. (I know, it’s getting old.)
Here’s Griffin receiving his jersey. The RGIII era has already surpassed the Heath Shuler era.
Goodell is giving him the “Seriously, you can bust, but don’t cause the headaches Ryan Leaf’s been giving me” talk.
Griffin was later joined by very happy family, friends, and Redskins officials. (Told you I was in better shape with the camera tonight. I think I even see Soy Bomb in there.)
C’mon Trent, you’re gonna have to show your face with the Browns jersey eventually.
Matt Kalil, the left tackle of the future for the L.A. Vikings. (Again, too soon. I know.)
A few picks later (because of a trade down), the Bucs were on the clock. Details were scant on who they were targeting. Despite our misfortunes vis-a-vis the gift bag, we were still able to procure an earpiece to listen in on any developments. To think, Mickey Loomis was just handing them out!
And it’s Mark Barron to the Bucs. I like the pick. O Vas likes it but thinks it’s too high and that they didn’t get nearly enough trading down. (That’s probably all true.)
After getting a closer look at Barron, we wonder if we saw him earlier as part of the event at the NFL Store, then we wonder if it was just another guy with similar hair, then we worry this is mildly getting into “What, all black people look alike?” territory, then we just move on.
There was a whole section of wildly enthusiastic Dolphins fans. Apparently there are people who have yet to arrive at my stage of the Ross/Ireland era. These guys are still waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive; I’ve bypassed the wait and gone straight to bed, figuring I can get up early to write snarky comments on Dolphins message boards instead. These had to have been either plants sent by Ross and the organization to spin the pick’s reaction for PR purposes or legit fans but the kind of perpetual optimists entirely devoid of even the smallest modicum of cynicism to the point where you just want to punch them in the back of the fucking head and immediately feel bad about it because they’d probably be apologizing to you for some reason. I know their type. I hate those people.
I don’t want to say Stephen Ross was the ringmaster behind this pick, but it really looks like a bad action movie and Ireland/Philbin have to hand in the card with “Tannehill” on it or else Ross unleashes the nerve gas on the bus full of puppies and orphans. Can we get Jason Statham involved?
That previous shot was later on TV, this one was in person on the big screen. This looks like the part of the movie where Ireland finds out Ross reneged on the deal and would let the bus full of puppies and orphans free but was still unleashing the lethal dose of arsenic into the drinking water. He’s diabolical!
“Shit, we’re on camera! Look excited about this pick or I’ll activate your shock collars again!”
They’re on the clock. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO…
After all the misdirections and smoke screens, it turns out Tannehill to Miami was a fait accompli. I proceeded to slam my hat against the chair three times. I then watched the weird euphoria from the other Dolphins fans, as if ANY quarterback is equal to a franchise quarterback. Desperate times.
I pondered my silver linings. All I could come up with is Lauren Tannehill sightings, betting against Tannehill, and the chance of playing the person who picks him up in fantasy when their regular starter has a bye week.
I should probably set aside some words (this is long enough already, what’s a few hundred more?) on why this pick bothers me.
A hypothetical for you: Three friends are at a bar near closing hoping to meet some female accompaniment. (“Meet some female accompaniment” is a nice euphemism for “get laid via meaningless, drunken tail,” eh? Class up this joint, ya know?) Friend 1 finds a knockout with a charming personality; she’s about to complete a dissertation for her med degree. Friend 2 finds an equally cute girl in which sparks fly; her effervescent personality and laugh win him over to the point where he’s already blowing off a night with the buddies tomorrow just to see her again. Friend 3 is striking out left and right until he meets the last girl there before closing, an inebriated vertiginous skank with a clearly visible cold sore and black eye who has been touching every guy and resting her head on all their laps while she chain smokes despite a wrinkly skin complexion that makes her look like a mahogany credenza. Friend 3 doesn’t delve into the pros and cons of this decision, but rather oversimplifies the situation by saying, “I came to meet a girl, she’s a girl, good enough.” Now, the man’s friends would certainly argue that just because they struck gold doesn’t mean he should settle by making an impulsive, overreactionary commitment when simply biding his time and waiting would net him something more long-term and fruitful.
Despite the terribly unflattering analogy when it comes to Mr. Tannehill, the principle remains the same: Why settle for the third-best of three options that’s only looking better because of the dearth of additional choices? This may sound paradoxical, but the Dolphins are facing such complete dysfunction at the quarterback position that it’s not worth trying to fix it right now. Either bottom out and get a Matt Barkley-type prospect or build up the surrounding parts (not trading one of the few elite receivers in the league for a song would’ve been a good start) to the point where a great defense, offensive line, special teams, tight end, and running game can help a league-average starter overachieve (Alex Smith, anyone?). With that, you’d also cultivate a positive environment that comes across to other players and coaches as conducive to winning. (If Jeff Ireland is actually why coaches and players don’t want to go there, I shouldn’t have to tell Stephen Ross what to do if that’s the case.)
But every sense I got was that this was NEVER a football decision. It seemed to be an overreach by the owner (I totally believe the reports Ross wanted this pick) and a bit of self-preservation by a general manager with tenuous job security and almost nonexistent credibility throughout the league and with fans. Make no mistake: Ireland was buying himself time. If he doesn’t address the quarterback position and Miami stumbles to a 3-13 season, he’s probably gone. Now with Tannehill, he has the putative quarterback of the future in the eyes of the fans and media. He can claim Tannehill is a work-in-progress and needs time to develop, buying himself at least three years. It doesn’t even matter if Tannehill flops at that point. If a better, veteran quarterback falls in his lap, he’s set. Or maybe he can amass just enough pieces and combine them with the blend of a favorable schedule and good health (a la 2008) and facilitate a surprise playoff run, giving him another winning season to cite as justification for an extension.
In a column for Fox Sports, Alex Marvez summarized the Dolphins decision thusly: “But at least the Dolphins finally have reason to feel good about the future at a position long their biggest weakness. That sure beats the despair that Miami fans would have felt had another top quarterback prospect slipped away in this draft.”
The problem is Tannehill only became a “top quarterback prospect” because desperate teams like the Dolphins were willing to take a converted receiver and projected second-round pick with 19 collegiate starts coming off a 15-interception season and brand him a “top quarterback prospect,” when really he’s just the third-best quarterback prospect in a draft where the drop-off from second- to third-best is massive.
The title of Marvez’s article was “Dolphins give fans hope with Tannehill,” which evoked memories of something Mike Lombardi said Art Modell once told him: “Kid, we sell hope, so let’s give them something to hope for.” The key word in that quote isn’t so much “hope” but “sell.” In this case, Dolphins fans were being pitched a commodity without any empirical proof of its value and basically being told “trust us” by the people who continuously get it wrong. Tannehill’s value became inflated so it would appear that there were three quarterbacks in a two-quarterback draft, thus changing the narrative from “The Dolphins missed out on the top two prospects” to “The Dolphins got a quarterback of the future they couldn’t pass up as well!” Whether or not Tannehill’s the answer, Miami needs their fans to believe he’s the answer, hence the reason why they latch on to anything he does well and gloss over his shortcomings.
My reaction since the moment I realized last season was a lost cause has been the same: “I want a franchise quarterback. I fear the Dolphins are taking ANY quarterback and hoping no one knows the difference.” It’s all about image:
We picked a quarterback in the first round for the first time since Dan Marino in 1983!
We took one in the top ten!
He was drafted only six picks away from Luck and RGIII!
Give us your money!
You don’t know any better!
The football decision may ultimately prove correct, but the motivation behind it still reeks of fan pandering and a desperate effort to end the bloodletting of season ticket sales. (Marvez reports sales have dropped 50 percent from a decade ago.)
Tannehill may prove to be an elite NFL quarterback or he may flame out spectacularly. Obviously, I want the former. I’m not going to cut off my nose to spite my face in a stubborn desire to be right on this. I’d love Tannehill and the Dolphins to prove me wrong. I’m willing to allot him three years to prove to me he’s the answer.
Three years should be enough time, especially since the Dolphins sure as hell haven’t convinced me he’s the answer in the past three months.
Another “You Pick the Song,” this time with the Panthers. “Cat Scratch Fever” is an option. Oh, Ted Nugent. The Dixie Chicks say shit and have to go into exile for three years. Ted Nugent says shit and is winning song pick’ems ten days later.
Compared to the people we met waiting in line, our entire section seemed to exude little to no visceral reaction toward anything, save for a Broncos fan who stormed out the second they officially traded out of the first round. The Bills fans seated next to me didn’t flinch before, during, or after their team was on the clock. I guess I understand it: Scott Norwood; 1991-1994; the Music City Miracle; the Ryan Fitzpatrick extension; the always looming move to Toronto.
I’ve pretty much figured out the attitudes of tormented fan bases. For example, Jets and Cowboys fans (the offseason champions) exude a brass swagger from February through August, even as their teams always fail to fulfill expectations during the season and they end up just as demoralized every January, at least until they land a shiny new free agent a few weeks later and everyone gets excited again. Browns, Vikings, and Raiders fans are pessimists who expect the worst, usually get it, but have it mitigated by the fact that they saw it coming.
Bills fans, however, belong in a class all to themselves. They’re inured to so much soul-crushing disappointment that they’re in a perpetual vegetative state. Mario Williams decides to sleep on it before signing a contract and Buffalo’s self-esteem is so low he might as well have burned a stack of Goo Goo Dolls records. With this perpetual “life is useless and the pain always outweighs the glory” attitude, they’re basically the NFL’s goth kids. Stephon Gilmore really should’ve walked onstage to a Cure song.
(Dolphins fans—and I spoke to several over the two days—seemed evenly split between overzealous optimism and derisive pessimism. I’m obviously the latter. I already plan on spending next season in full Statler and Waldorf mode with whomever I’m watching games:
“Hey, Tannehill’s throw was on-target that time.”
“Yeah, the Patriots’ safety caught it without moving an inch.”
<Cut to Electric Mayhem playing commercial bumper>)
A BTB exclusive! Only from our angle could I see Tannehill take an alternate exit from that of his fellow draft picks in order to head over to the Dolphins’ draft table. We’ll now cut to a mini-Inappropriate Photo Caption segment! First:
Welcome Ryan. First things first: We need you to help us get rid of 10,000 boxes of unusable “Peyton’s Place” and “Manning in Miami” shirts.
Yes, photos of a player’s wife in a two-piece are surprisingly effective in helping to evaluate talent.
Alright, your mic is off. Now what’s this about holding out for a year and reentering the draft?
The Eagles grab Fletcher Cox. I started worrying about teams like the Eagles/Cardinals/Bengals/Chargers/Bears in that middle portion of the draft. This draft was pretty much the big six then a drop-off. Numbers 7-20 were in various orders on a lot of team’s boards, with no definitive standout among them. A number of the teams in the middle of the round underachieved last year and were now about to get great value on a blue-chip player when they were only a few pieces away to begin with.
Once again, a half-decent Cardinals team gets great value on a playmaker in Michael Floyd. Mediocrity does pay off!
At this point, I was reminded that this was our first draft without the legendary Al Davis, whose Raiders were always must-see TV on draft night when they were on the clock. I was hoping Goodell would honor his legacy by reading off a list of really fast guys Davis would’ve taken 40 picks too high were he alive.
Here’s a shot of the ESPN booth. I couldn’t hear them, but I assume Jon Gruden was trying to explain who would win more MVPs, Nick Foles or Brock Osweiler. (I assume Gruden already penciled in first-rounders Luck, Griffin, Tannehill, and Weeden for three trophies each.) Things were getting boring. I pondered whether I should just stare at the ESPN booth nonstop for the remainder of the draft, hoping every time they looked up they’d see me and get unnerved.
The Jets are on the clock. The Jets fans start chanting for Melvin Ingram. With all the busts at defensive end in recent years and a whole run on them starting soon, they were really just splitting hairs in arguing for one guy over the others, but it wouldn’t be a New York draft crowd if they didn’t set their sights on someone and get angry when their team took someone else. (The best example ever: Knicks fans clamoring for Marcus Williams just because.)
The Jets take Quinton Coples. “We want Sapp” chants ring in my head.
Lazy bastard. He didn’t even fully commit to this Goodell hug.
Coples lazily awaits his new jersey.
Coples starts to think this whole football charade is a big mistake. He figures lots of other industries are ready to hire a communications major.
A quick note on the booing, since I saw many in the media calling out the fans at Radio City.
The people in the crowd are absolute dicks. I include myself in that mix. But the media is misconstruing it. In my case, when I boo Ryan Tannehill, I don’t boo a 23-year-old guy embarking on the beginning of his journey in his dream job in a new city with new teammates; I wish him all the luck in the world and hope he brings multiple championships to a franchise hungry for a Lombardi Trophy.
What I’m booing is the decision-making process. It’s the rationale behind that pick: We need a quarterback, he’s a quarterback, the subjective reasoning used by so-called “experts” says he’s the third-best guy at the position, he’ll do. That moment was my chance to slightly embarrass Jeff Ireland, Stephen Ross, and the entire joke of a “war room” that thinks they’ll steal attention from Ozzie Guillen and the Heat’s Big 3 and sell more tickets simply because the rubes they call their customers see something shiny and new and vaguely resembling the thing they’d been asking the team to get since #13 hobbled out the door. Those ten minutes on the clock are the only time the Dolphins will have the spotlight all to themselves, probably for the entire year. The failure and incompetence emanating from that front office has bred distrust and contempt in a disgruntled and impatient fan base, and this was the only outlet for the paying customers to say something and make a point before we go back to being faceless credit card numbers and season ticket application signatures. In the case of all the front offices that were booed, they’ll have every chance to prove their fans wrong. But some have lost the benefit of the doubt.
The human side of this thing (as I wrote about above) is indeed powerful. It should be a massive celebration for all the draft picks and their accomplishments thus far. But they have to understand they’re about to enter into a symbiotic relationship with 32 corporations under the umbrella of one monolith, and the corporate and personal sides clash at times as the evening unfolds. The athletes deserve our respect. The front office picking them has to earn our cheers. And some of them don’t deserve it.
It looks like Goodell’s now evaluating hugs on his notecard. Any hugs deemed unsatisfactory will result in arbitrary two-game suspensions at some point in 2014.
Melvin Ingram. It’s funny, because his new team will go 8-8 every year he’s there and no one will get fired.
This was a shot of the draft’s now annual salute to our armed forces. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the audience reaction and now had to do it in person. Not because the troops don’t deserve a standing ovation (they most certainly deserve it, and a hell of a lot more) but because that gesture feels so hollow. I, like a great number of us, don’t do anything for our servicemen and women and their families, and I feel like a large percentage of us think if we cheer extra loud at times like this or slap a bumper sticker on our car it’ll help mitigate the guilt we feel spending another summer playing Xbox and watching TV while one percent of our country fights a missionless war on a third tour of duty as their valiant service is reduced to campaign talking points and NFL photo ops.
The salute ended. The thunderous applause on camera wasn’t as revealing as the deafening silence two seconds after they exited the stage when we all went back to wondering if the Lions should trade down.
New Madden cover star Calvin Johnson was in the house. A worthy choice for the honor, which is why you people suck for not electing a joke candidate again. Remember when we picked the Cleveland guy who got benched and reportedly wanted to join the CIA? That was way more ingenious.
Anyway, when does the curse begin? Does it count if Megatron ended up with a splinter from the podium?
An aerial shot of the NFL Network crew. Not a great angle, but we could barely see them at all until we went out of our way to look for them around pick 24. I have no idea how ESPN’s booth still has the prime location and the league’s own network is off to the side. Shouldn’t ESPN be broadcasting out of an overflow conference room by now?
The Patriots weren’t due up for a few picks. I thought the graphics department made a mistake showing their logo. Did Belichick really trade up? Twice? After all the years of trading down? He got players who can help a contender immediately rather than more picks to blow on backup running backs and obscure cornerbacks who immediately are placed on IR? We’re all a little confused and scared.
A long overdue appearance by the big board illustrating all the picks thus far. How this wasn’t somewhere at all times is beyond me. The NBA Draft has the one they update manually for crying out loud! And the tenth pick in their draft is usually playing in Turkey in 3 years.
People filed out way faster than you’d ever realize. By the 25th pick, the venue was half empty, and the enthusiasm seemed to fizzle from after the Jets’ pick on down.
Finally found Mort and Schefter. The guys doing 90% of the legwork breaking news and monitoring team activity are supplied with two IKEA chairs and a shared Macbook. They probably had to split a Diet Pepsi too. The “insiders” are second-class citizens here tonight.
I’m posting a shot of Nick Perry, not because this was a particularly interesting moment or pick, but because it presented us with our weirdest (and probably crappiest) song of the night.
I finally tracked down the song on iTunes. Apparently it’s called “Let’s Go Green Bay” from the Official Music of the Green Bay Packers compilation album.
I got distracted from writing for a half hour by this album. The entire thing is really fascinating, even in 90 second samples. Among the tracks:
-The aforementioned “Let’s Go Green Bay,” which features a Davy Jones soundalike—probably a studio musician willing to sign the rights to his work over to the producer in exchange for a hot meal. The verses pretty much rip off Cheap Trick’s “Surrender.”
-“G-Force” just tried to make Muse’s “Uprising” sound like a Cult song.
-“Lambeau’s Where the Party’s At” is the musical aggregation of every pop-punk band you now pretend you didn’t like in high school. (Good Charlotte sold all those records to somebody, people.)
-“Packin’ the Heat” is pretty incredible as well. It’s just a shame Bubba Sparxxx couldn’t even get an album credit.
-The last song, “We Love the Green and Gold,” is equally amazing. Imagine Stephin Merritt ironically composing a Celtic-influenced football fight song.
Vince Lombardi must be spinning in his inspired, motivated, well-disciplined grave. The Yankees “How Ya Doin’” guys are officially off the hook for their crimes against humanity.
After embarking on this journey, the first round was winding down, so we decided to cram in a few more photos.
Alright, I staged this shot. No Bucs fan was really that excited for Doug Martin.
And just like that, our experience was over. A few final thoughts:
Most excitement: The Cowboys trading up for Morris Claiborne. No one saw it coming, and the reaction to whether it was worth it was mixed.
Least excitement: For some reason, Kevin Zeitler. Maybe everyone just wanted to go home, maybe no one cared about the Bengals, but any definition of total apathy wouldn’t describe the term as well as ten seconds of video of our section after that pick was announced.
Most notable omission: Other than Al Davis? (R.I.P.) The Saints. Obviously they traded this year’s first-rounder and thus weren’t mentioned at the draft, but I couldn’t find a single trace in the gift shop, at Radio City, or among the fans in attendance that the New Orleans Saints had ever existed. I think the ten Saints fans who made the trip were sent to the NFL’s equivalent of Gitmo until everyone left town Monday.
Best pick: The Patriots finally using all those picks they stockpiled and grabbing specific guys who can help them in specific areas immediately. They were a hail mary away from a championship and now add Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower, two guys whom everybody liked. Damn.
Worst pick (non-Tannehill division): Probably Dontari Poe. Seemed a little high, and why does Scott Pioli deserve credibility with front-four guys? Particularly a work in progress like Poe.
Worst pick (Tannehill division): Tannehill.
We exited Radio City. “Are we going to the draft?” was no longer a rhetorical question. We were there. It actually happened.
And yes, before this ends with me leaving you hanging in suspense, I absolutely went home with Tervis. I still don’t know if there’s any internal mechanism that differentiates this from other drink aids or if I just bought a really nice cup. It’s also not a good sign that the two items used prominently in the sales pitch (beer and coffee) are about the only two things I never drink. But Tervis had transcended mere souvenir status at this point. It was an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a mystery welded into a cup.
At the very least, it serves as a metaphor:
I’m not sure exactly what it does. I’m not sure if it’s any different than similar items I already have. I pretty much got it because, after all that, I had to walk out of there with something.
Huh. Now I know how Jeff Ireland feels. We both walk away on draft night completely uncertain as to whether our investments will pay off.
I think it goes without saying I have more faith in Tervis.