This isn’t the NFL draft anyone expected. No stage. No pomp and circumstance. No beleaguered commissioner Roger Goodell being booed into oblivion.
But, though COVID-19 precautions forced the draft from Las Vegas to ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn., the NFL’s most elaborate offseason event is set to go on all the same.
And, to mark the occasion, I’m sitting on a couch, unhealthily inhaling lukewarm pizza, keeping a running diary of the NFL’s first — and hopefully, last — virtual draft.
So, with all that said, welcome to the watch party. The NFL is on the clock.
5:04: The camera cuts to ESPN’s Trey Wingo, standing alone in an immense Bristol, Conn., studio. “Things have changed dramatically, and we have changed with it,” he says. He motions to a massive horizontal screen, which is comprised of 60 tiny individual squares — each showcasing the living room of another NFL Draft hopeful.
5:05: Wingo throws it to Goodell, who is hunkered in his basement in Bronxville, NY. The 61-year-old commissioner is decked out in a blue shirt and blazer … which is curious, considering that roughly 45 minutes earlier he was on ESPN wearing a gray shirt and sweater. I can only hope this means he has different outfits prepared for all 32 picks.
“We will get through this together,” Goodell says. “And when we do, we will be here for you.”
Thanks, Roger. I needed to hear that. Now somebody boo this man.
5:16: Roger must have heard me, because he pumps in virtual boos from fans across the country — including Giants Hall of Famer and “Good Morning America” host Michael Strahan, who apparently decided he simply is not on TV often enough.
5:21: NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner appears on screen for the first time. A Super Bowl trophy, Hall of Fame plaque and Walter Payton Man of the Year Award are prominently displayed on the table behind him. Warner is nothing if not humble, after all.
5:33: There has been exactly one pick in 33 minutes. We could be in for a long night.
5:42: After selecting Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah with the third overall pick, Lions general manager Bob Quinn is shown speaking on the phone while his two kids stand behind him, staring aimlessly around the room. This kickstarts a trend of children awkwardly orbiting their fathers, unsure what they’re supposed to do.
5:55: While discussing the Miami Dolphins’ decision to draft Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa fifth overall, Wingo references Spanish philosopher George Santayana, who famously said that “those who don’t remember history are destined to repeat it.”
If you had Wingo referencing Santayana in NFL Draft bingo, 1.) you’re a liar, and 2.) take a drink.
6:15: After the Carolina Panthers select Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown seventh overall, the camera cuts to Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn — who has the words “HURRY UP NO HUDDLE” plastered on the wall inside his home in bold orange paint.
If he had huddled with his wife, Kristi, they almost certainly would have settled on different decor.
6:27: “Turn that down,” Goodell says to someone off-screen, clearly unaware that the camera is on him. He then stares at said camera for several seconds, pauses, continues to stare, pauses again, and finally announces that the Cleveland Browns have selected Alabama offensive tackle Jedrick Wills with the 10th overall pick.
6:35: NFL Network analyst and very sweaty 54-year-old Michael Irvin says that Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy “gives you that stanky leg and then takes it right back.”
My email address is listed at the bottom of the story. Please, somebody, tell me what that means.
6:41: The Las Vegas Raiders select Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III, who is wearing 1.) a white bath robe, and 2.) a gold watch.
In other words: Ruggs is a perfect fit for Las Vegas.
7:00: After the San Francisco 49ers select South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw with the 14th overall pick, Kinlaw’s father rolls right off his La-Z-Boy and lies on his back, with both hands shooting straight in the air. His fingers, in fact, are all that’s visible in the frame.
Somebody go check on Javon Kinlaw’s father.
7:05: The Broncos select Jeudy with the 15th pick. Later, in an interview with local media, general manager John Elway will almost certainly praise his newest receiver’s ability to give opposing corners that stanky leg and then take it right back.
7:17: Cut to first-year Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, whose face is situated roughly six inches from the camera. Two months into the quarantine, he’s the employee in your office who’s still struggling to use Zoom.
7:29: We’ve got a Goodell outfit change! The commish is now inexplicably sporting a dark sweater rather than the previous blue blazer. Or, in draft terms, you could say he made a trade.
8:00: While ESPN’s Adam Schefter breaks down an actual trade between the Patriots and the Chargers, Wingo abruptly interrupts him to declare that the Chargers’ pick is in. Wingo is then informed that, no, the pick is in fact not in. We can only assume that Schefter sits silently in his library bunker, fuming.
8:14: After Wingo asks Schefter for the details of a trade between the Vikings and 49ers, Schefter waits several seconds to respond — possibly as an almost imperceptible measure of revenge.
8:24: With the 26th overall pick, the Green Bay Packers move up to select Utah State quarterback Jordan Love. If only there was a camera that could cut to Aaron Rodgers …
8:41: The screen shifts to former LSU linebacker Patrick Queen, who has a life-size cutout of grinning LSU head coach Ed Orgeron looming in the background of the shot.
Now, imagine having it in your bedroom, watching you while you sleep.
8:47: There are two people standing behind Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel. One is dressed like Frozone from “The Incredibles,” donning a full blue-and-white body suit as well as Titans shorts. The other sports an oversized Vrabel No. 50 Pro Bowl jersey, to go along with short shorts, a mustache and an astonishing bleach blonde mullet.
WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? Incredibly, no one from the ESPN broadcast even acknowledges their presence. Did Vrabel invite them? Does he even know they’re standing behind him? Should someone call the police?
(Oh, and less importantly, the Titans nabbed Georgia offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson with the 29th overall pick.)
9:05: If you have Chiefs coach Andy Reid wearing a Hawaiian shirt in NFL Draft bingo, take another drink.
9:08: ESPN analyst Booger McFarland nonchalantly refers to the Kansas City Chiefs’ wide receivers as the “Legion of Zoom.” Booger, stop trying to make “Legion of Zoom” happen. It’s not going to happen.
9:16: As Thursday’s draft broadcast ends, Goodell gives a virtual hug to new Saints offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz.
In reality, the commissioner of the NFL — in his third outfit of the night — just wrapped his arms around a television mounted to the wall in his basement. And maybe that summarizes the proceedings better than anything else could.
It’s true, nothing about this was normal. But that didn’t make it any less fun.