Congratulations on putting together a masterful three-day virtual draft that not only was a seamless operation amid challenging circumstances but provided an intriguing and unprecedented look behind the curtain at the lives of football people at every level.
Players, coaches, general managers, owners, executives — all interacting at home with their families amid a deadly pandemic. For three days, the NFL was humanized like never before. For three days, we were them and they were us.
(Well, maybe except for Jerry Jones hanging out on a yacht that cost more than he paid for the Cowboys in 1989. Or Kliff Kingsbury lounging in his sprawling Arizona home as if he were in an Architectural Digest shoot.)
But how great was it that we got to see people we ordinarily watch in their roles on television — Bill Belichick scowling along the Patriots’ sideline, a buttoned-down Roger Goodell addressing serious topics at news briefings, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah studiously examining the pros and cons of players as they come off the board — and observe them during the draft.
Belichick catching a football tossed from off-camera. Seated behind the laptop of the greatest coach in NFL history . . . his dog.
Goodell reading the picks from the basement of his Westchester County home — at first while standing up dressed in a sport coat, then changing into a sweater and reading picks, and then sitting in his easy chair reading some more. All while eating his way through jars of M&M’s.
Jeremiah again offering his terrific insight into players, dressed in a neat tie and jacket while being televised from the waist up — and then admitting he was wearing shorts.
Coaches who spend their lives away from home to do their jobs and having negligible work-life balance now experiencing the opportunity to be with their families during one of the most important periods on the NFL calendar.
General managers, too. And for Giants GM Dave Gettleman, a reminder to all of us of the seriousness of the moment: At 69 years old and having recently gone through chemotherapy, which put him in the at-risk category for COVID-19, he wore a mask because a Giants IT specialist was in the same room.
Kids sitting on their dad’s laps as important decisions were made. Joe Burrow sitting on a couch flanked by his parents for one of the biggest moments of his life.
“It’s been great to sit down and eat dinner, to help my kids with their homework,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said. “I was talking to some of the other NFL coaches and we were thinking maybe we should do this again next year. I mean, I’m at home in a T-shirt and shorts. No tie, no suit. It’s pretty comfortable.”
How good was this? It was spectacularly good. And it was just what we needed at such a desperate time in our history.
Nothing can undo the pain and horror we’ve already experienced, nor can the grim reality of what is in store be avoided. But for three days, the NFL delivered what Goodell had promised: hope. That and a welcome respite from the constant reminders of a world torn apart in a matter of weeks by an invisible disease.
The event was as revealing and riveting as it was seamless in its execution. Born of necessity because of the inability of teams to conduct normal business, the NFL pulled off one of the great feats in sports. Thanks to a collaboration between the skilled television professionals at ESPN, NFL Network and ABC, this worked out better than anyone could have imagined.
There were no major technical glitches. Trades were consummated with zero complications. No delays of any sort; in fact, judging from many fans’ reactions on social media, the draft seemed to go even faster than usual.
And it was a ratings bonanza, with more than 55 million viewers over the three-day event. According to the NFL, the average audience for this year’s draft grew a whopping 35% over 2019. Not only that, but the league helped raise $100 million in the fight against COVID-19.
There now is much work to be done in deciding when — or even if — there will be a season in 2020. And rest assured that Goodell and the league’s owners and executives are taking every possibility into account, including an abbreviated season with no fans at stadiums.
But if the virtual draft is an indication of the kind of imagination the NFL can put to good use moving forward, there’s at least a chance. In the meantime, let’s appreciate just how good this weekend turned out to be.
Goodell said he’ll consider ways to incorporate some of the elements that made this draft so special, to continue to humanize those involved in the process and give fans the kind of insight into the football world they got from his one-of-a-kind event.
And say this much for a commissioner who has been routinely booed at this time of year any time he takes the stage to announce picks: He deserves credit for pushing forward with the draft.
Let’s hope he never has to make this kind of decision again.
All things considered, though, the NFL’s bold move to stage a virtual draft couldn’t have worked out any better.