The most historic sports moments are typically measured by how loud the crowd noise is. This one will be defined by its relative silence. The most poignant sports moments are typically illustrated by the amount of affection an athlete receives. This one will be remembered for the isolation.
The NFL draft is always a highly anticipated event, and the void in the sports world created by the coronavirus pandemic should make this year’s particularly appreciated. But aside from the fact that fans are itching for three days of concrete sports news, they’re also going to get something we’ve never seen before and will hopefully never see again:
The Quarantine Draft.
Yes, when the first round begins Thursday night I’ll be interested to see where players land, which teams move up, which trade down and, of course, who winds up in Seattle.
But I’m equally intrigued by how networks will pull this off as a telecast, how general managers and their staffs will communicate, and how this will be communicated to millions of people.
This is a 10 on the degree-of-difficulty scale — for ESPN, the NFL Network and all 32 teams trying to navigate this.
“At this point I would say I’m about 80 percent there,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said Tuesday when discussing his comfort level with the virtual setup. “We’re going to practice with a couple teams. … To say that I’m totally comfortable with it right now, I’m not. … I will be.”
The Seahawks typically are one of the more active teams during the draft, as they have a habit of trading down to acquire more picks. Whether this will be problematic for Schneider — who has had walls knocked down in his house to accommodate a setup of about 25 screens — remains to be seen.
It likely won’t, as teams have been running simulations to get them as prepared for draft day as possible. But it will be interesting to see how comfortable old-school coaches and execs are relying on all this technology. Remember, Patriots coach Bill Belichick once slammed a Microsoft tablet on a sideline bench when it wasn’t cooperating.
The telecast will be compelling, too. This isn’t a variety show with a host telling a few jokes and doing a couple Skype interviews. This will possibly be the most complex broadcast in America since the country was shut down.
You’ll have ESPN and the NFL Network working together, with ESPN’s Trey Wingo hosting all three days of the coverage. You’ll have analysts such as Mel Kiper Jr., Louis Riddick, Booger McFarland, Daniel Jeremiah and Kurt Warner. You’ll have the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen and Deion Sanders hosting a fundraiser on the NFL’s social and digital platforms, Suzy Kolber conducting live interviews and a bevy of reporters assigned to various teams.
The moving parts are endless and, at this point, unpredictable. What might change?
Are we going to be able to see draftees’ reactions when they get a call letting them know they’ve been picked? The raw emotion you see in those moments is often the most touching part of the draft. Is commissioner Roger Goodell going to play audio of booing when he introduces himself? That would likely endear him to the audience like nothing else could right now.
How will reactions from fan bases be documented? Will we again see Jets fans ticked off regardless of whom the team picks? Just what is all this going to look like?
“It’s going to be a fascinating experience. We’ve had tons of drafts over our lifetime that will never be remembered like this one will be,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “It’s Wild Wild West figuring that out, so it’s been exciting. It’s cool to see the process, and we’re ready to go.”
I can’t remember looking forward to a draft as much as I am this one. The need for a diversion seems to grow every hour, and this will provide three days of that.
Will it create a sense of normalcy? Perhaps. But what’s most intriguing is the abnormality of it all.