As much as the NFL Draft eats at the human soul and emits sulfur and methane in its wake, we may not have given sufficient thought to what happens when it ends.
The nauseating mantra that we need the draft just as a distraction and that somehow this mesomorphic Costco is good for the nation’s sporting morale has been taken as a given, and therefore, as a marketing campaign. Roger Goodell could be relied upon to play up the league’s self-declared role as defenders of America’s couches, and he did in his usual way, looking like he got dressed while forgetting to take the hangers out of his clothes. Indeed, the entire night had a stiff, forced air to it because, well, these are stiff, forced times made even stiffer and more forced by the fact that everyone is in separate rooms talking to themselves.
Ultimately, though, 32 names were recited as always. There were no surprises at the top end of the evening, Tua Tagovailoa was drafted to the team that could least afford to pass him by, the San Francisco 49ers continued its unnatural fixation on defensive linemen, the Packers continued their campaign to make Aaron Rodgers the world’s angriest man, and Ohio State is the prohibitive favorite to win the Super Bowl. There were winners, and there were losers, and nobody will know who is what for three years.
But once the draft is over, then what? Sure, you can pretend that eight more hours of Jordan Explains Jordan are going to look much different than the first two. I mean, that $320 tequila tumbler isn’t going to drink itself. Other than the fact that Michael has re-established the lead over Kobe and LeBron in the Autobiographical Olympics, what have you got? Eventually it will dawn on us all that Legacy Wars isn’t a whole lot more enduring a concept than Robot Wars, Storage Wars or Cupcake Wars.
But the landscape after that is as remarkably barren as you feared. You’ll stop blaming Jerry Krause for everything about the new century eventually. Obsessively checking Soccerway to see if Tajikistan, Belarus, or Nicaragua have finally stopped playing their domestic league games will lose its magic once you realize the only way those countries are going to postpone games is through regime changes. The Japanese B-league that tried to restart its season again and then stopped when their players started spreading the virus in their pregame layup lines will just be another cautionary tale you don’t want to hear. Out Of The Park baseball season simulations won’t even provide the nourishing schadenfreude of seeing the Cubs and Red Sox in last place, because even a simulated season is still six months long. And you’ve had to cancel your plans to hate the Houston Astros, unless in your fevered and delusional state you think they caused the virus by banging on dirty trash cans.
In short, our sporting lives are now a reductive festival of stories like “Source: Owners Considering Restarting Season In Space,” “Football Coaches Push To Play 2020 Season After 2023 Season,” “Florida Promotes Plan To Build Giant Sporting Complex In Plagueville Estates” and “In Strange NHL Cock-up, Bettman Furloughs Self.” They’re all just reworks of the same story–people talking about playing before the virus gives the all-clear because we think the virus is listening.
And why? Because that’s all there is. We have whipped ourselves into an emotional fondue with the curative powers of the Jordan hagiography and the nurturing vision of the New York Jets drafting cornerback Lamar Jackson of Nebraska in the sixth round because they confused him with the other Lamar Jackson–all because we were sure there was no way we’d still be chained to our fireplace gratings come May.
Only we will be, no matter how many humans Las Vegas mayor/crackpot Carolyn Goodman is ready to sacrifice to the great god Keno The Magnificent. We remain as we have been, slaves to the warring concepts of playing the games for our national morale and not liking it when Grandma gets sick. Our creativity for self-amusement is tested further as we burn off fuel like The Last Dance and The Last Draft, and cannot replace them with something new the way the Germans are test-programming the restart of Bundesligas 1 and 2.
And we’re going to need to learn all those names and more besides, because Boise State is nailing boards to the windows of the athletic department building while the SK Wyverns and Doosan Bears play an early season showdown in Seoul. We are going to learn to love international sport because it’s the only thing there is, or we will curse the frightening darkness of a calendar without numbers, words or grid spaces.
Of course, we’ll be taking option B because that’s who we are. But in the meantime, savor the concept of Mr. Irrelevant, the last draft pick on Saturday, because there’s an excellent chance you’re actually going to remember his name this time.
Ray Ratto is here to remind you that if you paid money to boo Roger Goodell, you are part of the problem, not the solution.