As much disruption and dislocation as the public-health crisis caused the draft, the NFL has just completed the easy part of its test. Compared to the road ahead, the stress involved in digitizing and virtualizing the annual cattle call was almost benign.
Off the top, I want to say that the innovation it produced was delightful. If the NFL never went back to its relentless compulsion to Vegas-ize and Hollywood-ize its featured events, I would be pleased to reward it with the prestigious Thielian Commendation for Understatement.
You have never heard of this award because it has never been awarded. Pro and big-time college sports have never understated anything.
Sports moguls and marketers must think they’re selling laundry detergent. Everything must be bigger, brighter, bolder, cleaner, cuter, sexier and more clever.
As a live, structured but unscripted, presentation, the draft over three days was splendid TV.
My perspective may be warped by the complete void of live contests, but watching real people celebrate achievement in their homes, in corny, genuine, embarrassing but endearing ways, was wonderful. I know the six-foot rule was endlessly violated, but I’m carving out a section of my social conscience and putting those folks in the gap.
Watching commissioner Roger Goodell gradually dressing down, to the point where I hoped there was a fourth day in order to feature him in boxers, black socks and a cigarette dangling from his lips, was so Al Bundy that I wished I was Peggy to air-kiss him.
Give me Andy Reid in a Hawaiian shirt, and dog butts blocking the live feed, every damn day. ‘Merca.
I don’t have any idea whether meaningful behavioral changes will be a consequence of the pandemic, but if they happen, I know what part of the calendar to circle to mark the beginning of The Woke.
The NFL looked good looking humbled.
I’m even happy that ESPN host Trey Wingo drew from the starter kit of the Craig Sager Horrid Fashion ensemble.
The distraction was fun.
Now we’re back, re-engaged in the menacing humdrum of pandemic life.
After the Seahawks draft concluded Saturday with the hire of a solid but unspectacular octet of rookies, I wondered how coach Pete Carroll was going to direct not only these guys, but the entire orchestra without knowing when the music starts or stops. So I asked — via Zoom, of course, the new coin of the communications realm.
“I can’t really tell you what’s going to happen,” he said. “We’re just going to go for it and cut it loose, and see where it goes, and then adjust from there.”
The NFL is deliberately, cautiously moving ahead with its calendar until someone tells the league it is jeopardizing public safety. The draft really wasn’t that big of a problem, because there were hardware and software workarounds to preserve the event’s functionality.
But soon enough, young men must collide with great violence, sharing their germs in spittle and sweat and on weight machines. The are no workarounds for that.
Post-draft meetings for 70 roster players start at 10 a.m. Monday. For the first time in NFL history, they won’t be in person.
“We’re into the virtual Phase One for the first time ever,” Carroll said. “Our coaches have spent a lot of time trying to be creative and inventive in how we’re going to present stuff, to try to capture them. One of the things about our program — it is so energetic and there is so much interaction and relationship stuff that goes on.”
Carroll made an observation that hadn’t occurred to me. While Zoom is an effective tool to convey information to groups, it is zipless.
“One thing about this that is really fascinating to me, and we’ve been recognizing it as we go through our Zoom staff meetings, is that there is an emotional connection that doesn’t happen through Zoom,” he said. “There’s that whole life connection, all of those skills that we’ve developed, that are not available to us right now. It feels different.
“It’s like the draft. Here goes Roger, making his call, and the crowds not cheering and he’s not hugging the kids up in the same way. We’re in a different mode of communicating right now. It’s different, unique. You can see it and we’re going to need to figure it out, and try to maximize it.
“It’s relationships of a different nature. We’re talking through Zoom. It’s a fascinating time, and we’ll see where it takes us.”
Carroll could complain about it, which would accomplish nothing. But doing something about it . . . well, it’s a mystery.
“It’s going to tax us in a different way,” he said. “We are looking for all of the edges that we can find, and the nuances that we can create, that will make this a really special and unique time that will be meaningful. What we have to do as coaches is to continue to push ourselves to see things new, for the first time.
“It’s going to be different, of course. All I can tell you is that it is one big challenge.”
Carroll fully understands that his anxiety is trifling relative to health-care workers, first responders and the victims of covid-19 and their families. He’ll still be paid millions and get first-rate health care. But this isn’t about comparatives.
This is about handling one’s responsibilities during a hardship in a way that can help many and hopefully hurt no one. In a grim experience unique in the lives of all, he knows only one successful route through the mystery.
“We have been practicing, like always, with whatever you’re doing,” he said. “You have to practice to get good at it.”
The NFL this week practiced humility. It was surprisingly good at it. So now Carroll must conduct without knowing where the music starts or stops. Practice starts Monday. I suspect he’ll figure it out, and hope he shares.