The End of an Era
You have to hand it to the NFL, it most certainly has mastered the skill of entertaining its fans throughout the entire year. And the linchpin to all its offseason success is the NFL draft. It is the premier offseason sporting event, and its popularity can be no better exemplified than by the fact that it even thrived amid a league shutdown in 2011.
Any unbiased evaluation into exactly what the draft is would seem to tell us that it really ought to bore the hell out of anyone who is neither amused by shiny objects or movies on the Lifetime Network. In fact, it has been written that when ESPN originally suggested televising the NFL draft in 1980, then-commissioner Pete Rozelle's response was: "Are you crazy?"
So, what exactly has happened here? How is it possible that an event you can't really get anything more out of by watching it for sixteen hours than in the ten minutes it takes to check the results online when it is finished can generate television ratings on par with the championship games of other professional sports?
Simply put, it's all about the fans.
The draft is a microcosm of sports culture as a whole: as fans we are so addicted to all things football that we have taken an event that doesn't even keep score and have turned it into a cultural phenomenon just so that we have yet one more thing to cheer for... or boo about. And in the case of the latter, over the years there has not been a fanbase more emphatic than those card-carrying members of Gang Green.
Johnny "Lam" Jones over Anthony Muñoz; Ken O'Brien over Dan Marino; David Cadigan over Randall McDaniel; Jeff Lageman over Andre Rison; Kyle Brady over Warren Sapp... the list is not for the weak of stomach; nor was the reaction from Jets fans. For years, ESPN paid homage to the Jets draft fortunes via a video montage, which to many was the highlight of the selection extravaganza.
But as the draft evolved, so has Gang Green; becoming more reflective than reflexive. And in recent years, as the courtesy of applause has overtaken the element of exasperation within Jets fandom, the video is inexplicably no longer a part of the draft tradition. Fortunately, something known as Youtube came out in 2005—which, as coincidence would have it, was the same year the Jets did not have a first-round pick.
So, here it was that time in the 2012 NFL Draft with the Jets on the board and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walking to the podium with card in hand. It was just then that an eery and ominous din—the sort the earth makes when a geyser nears eruption—started to rumble and reverberate through the auditorium. It was a sound having not been heard during the draft in several years, and it was music to the ears of the most devoted of draft traditionalists. Perhaps because since selecting Darrell Revis in the first-round of the 2007 draft their picks have been of a less spectacular variety, it appeared as though an extra dose of uneasiness was pulsating through the veins of Gang Green on this night. The cameras certainly confirmed just that, as the Jets Faithful were on their feet and looking as capable as ever of having themselves a "vengeful villagers to the old mill" moment. "Their back!"
Keeping your eyes on the fan donning the Broadway Joe jersey (#12) in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, here is how the episode played out for me as I sat up and prepared for the inevitable carnage to ensue:
Roger Goodell: "With the 16th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft..."
There you go, untuck that jersey. Very good idea! You definitely want air to be able to escape it so wind resistance doesn't slow you down any as you storm the castle...
Goodell: "The New York Jets ..."
The lean-in... all right, make sure you hear what's about to be said, old boy! A.J. Jenkins!? Bryan Anger!? Rhett Ellison!?
Goodell: "... select ..."
The "swinging door" arm gesture... that's perfectly normal under these conditions. Secret service agents do the same maneuver when the crowd gets too close to the motorcade.
Goodell: "Quinton Coples."
And there it is: the same look Wile E. Coyote has on his face upon realizing that the contraption built out of a refrigerator, meat grinder, electric motor and a pair of skis, astoundingly, was not a sufficient ensnaring mechanism for the Beep-Beep Bird.
Man, this is going to be good! I wonder how many limbs Goodell is going to be able to escape with intact? Jets Nation set to implode in 3... 2... 1--
Wait, what the hell was that? That... that... thing he did with his arms, shooting them up in the air like Mary Lou Retton! Was that a delayed sign of exuberance? No way!
But... but... it's Coples! You know, Quinton Coples... "inconsistent motor"... "character concerns"... "more suitable for a 4-3 defense than a 3-4?" Coples!?!? Ah, c'mon!
It was to no avail. It was like the storm of the century that didn't occur after boarding up all your windows; the Fourth of July firework display cancelled on account of rain; biting into the Krispy Kreme doughnut just to find out that there isn't any jelly inside.
Let's face it, this isn't your mother and father's Gang Green any longer; this is now the politically correct version which is more likely to say, "He wouldn't have been my pick there, but I have to admit that the kid does have some upside," rather than shout "Joe Must Go! Joe Must Go!" in the same tone of voice which is required in order to hail a cab in their city.
And because of it, in all the ways the league has improved upon the draft over the years, it doesn't feel like it has improved at all without a 1968 Democratic National Convention breaking out inside the Radio City Music Hall after each and every selection by the Jets.
Yes, as fans we can live with the draft's opening round being on a Thursday evening. We can endure its aggrandizing commercialization. And we'll eventually have to cope with McShay replacing Kiper. But if there is no longer a better than average chance of Gang Green going from Bill Bixby to Lou Ferrigno in the seconds immediately following the announcement of the Jets pick, is it really worth it?
Where is Johnny Lam Jones when you need him?