CBSN

The NFL Draft: Christmas In April

nfl football playoffs
CBS/AP
No day in sports makes fans' hopes soar like Draft Day in the NFL, according to the latest Against the Grain commentary by CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer

If Monica Lewinsky hosting "Mr. Personality" represents all that is putrid and apocalyptic in American culture, Saturday's NFL Draft reflects all that is noble and hopeful.

All right, that's pushing it.

But for a certain kind of developmentally stunted American male, for guys like me, Saturday's draft is, well, Christmas in April. For those whose belief in Santa Claus has grown somewhat shaky in adulthood, it may be better.

The draft even has a touch of Easter resurrection and Yom Kippur atonement to it. It's an important day in our secular calendar.

The draft's charms and deep meanings are completely lost on the uninitiated. Indeed, obsessive interest in the NFL draft is considered puerile and pathetic in some, often female, circles. Some draft aficionados are still, in 2003, in the closet.

If you want a quick gauge of what the draft means to the country that just vanquished Saddam Hussein, search "NFL Draft 2003" on Google: 306,000 hits! And 263,000 on Yahoo.

The primordial urge to be a general manager lurks in nearly all male souls. That urge has been liberated only recently, when God invented Rotisserie Baseball and Fantasy Football and Basketball.

CBSNews.com's cousin, CBS Sportsline.com, makes about as much money on fantasy sports than it does on ad sales. And this is a hobby that simply didn't exist when I was a kid. It's huge now.

Life without fantasy sports is poorer. I can report that directly because this is the first season I haven't been in a Rotisserie Baseball league since 1990 (I think). I made a terrible mistake. When I gaze at the box scores in the paper in the morning, I am a hollow man. But I digress…

The baseball draft is held in secret. The NFL brings the fans right in and it televises the whole thing, all 20 hours of it. It's the only day of the years when fans, brilliant strategists all, can actually yell at the team's top brass instead of the players.

It's a day when you can witness the course of human evolution with your own eyes. Each year, the players are markedly bigger and faster than the year before. We now have 300-pound defensive tackles running 40-yard sprints in 4.6 seconds. Quarterback breeding has not kept up.

The draft has been the fan's long-sanctioned fantasy day. It's got lists and statistics and trades and endless kibitzing. And from draft day until the first game of the season, your team looks good and has a chance.

This is especially true for people who have made life commitments to bad franchises, say the Chicago Bears. I have been a Bears fan for 40 years and, on the field, they have provided me with one moment of true rapture – the 1985 Super Bowl. Everything else has been pure hope.

The truth is, I haven't actually been to a Bears game since the late 1970's, when my best friend, Clint O'Connor and I tried to cut off other cars in the parking lot by pretending we were chauffeurs for the team physician, Dr. Theodore "Ted" Fox.

Decades later, I drag my second-grader to smoky Washington bars with satellite TV to watch Bears games in the fall. My loyal and devoted son will not go out in public without some type of Bears paraphernalia on his body.

This year, it was pretty much all over for us by Halloween. By Thanksgiving, we were focused on the draft.

The Bears have the fourth pick in this year's draft. In years past, when the Bears had the number four pick, they took Walter Payton and Gale Sayers -- two of the finest running backs ever.

So four is obviously our lucky number and this is our year. If the Bears pick who I think they should, we're going all they way.

Except for one thing: on the eve of the draft, they traded the 4th pick to the New York Jets for the 13th and 22nd selections.

Back to the drawing board.

Dick Meyer, a veteran political and investigative producer for CBS News, is Editorial Director of CBSNews.com based in Washington.

E-mail questions, comments, complaints and ideas to
Against the Grain

By Dick Meyer