[John Gutekunst was the head coach at the University of Minnesota in the eighties]
Roger Goodell, from an island in the middle of the luxe pond just off the Strip in Las Vegas, announces to the crowd of , and to America: “With the (th pick in the [Picks] NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints select Cesar Ruiz, center, Michigan. ” . . . The ESPN camera posted on a high wall in the Saints draft room shows a grainy coach Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis high-fiving. . . As three cameras zoom in on him, Ruiz, in his $ 3, custom-made suit, steps onto a little boat to take him to a red carpet. . . He puts on a Saints cap, climbs onto the red carpet to fireworks overhead, fountains pulsing on all sides of him. . . Ruiz approaches Goodell, and though he is a humble kid who’d never do this in real life, chest-bumps the NFL commissioner. They bearhug. For the cameras, Goodell holds up the black-and-gold Saints jersey with RUIZ on the back. The crowd of , goes nuts. A fist-pumping Ruiz beams in this manufactured moment. What the [Louisville tackle Mekhi] NFL Draft actually was, pandemic style:
Roger Goodell, tie-less, from his wood-paneled basement 30 miles north of New York City, announces with not much verve: “With the (th pick in the [the criticism] NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints select Cesar Ruiz, center, Michigan. ” . . . An iPhone on a portable tripod shoots Ruiz, in a camo T-shirt, live in his modest family home in rugged Camden, N.J. He dons a Saints cap and bawls, overcome by the moment. His mom, the rock of the family after his good-Samaritan dad was struck and killed by a car when he stopped to help a stranded driver change a tire in envelops Cesar as he weeps. . . Saints coach Sean Payton — in a hoodie, son Connor to his side, a bag of Twizzlers in front of him — watches the pick on TV in his living room. Across town at his home, GM Mickey Loomis gets a hug from son Sam, with daughter Lucy beaming nearby. . . A small group of friends and family in the Ruiz home whoop it up. . . There is no Saints jersey, no crowd of , . There is middle-class America, as a family celebrates its finest hour.
Glitzy / glamorous NFL, or humble / Americana NFL. What’s better?
We saw this weekend what’s better. It took a murderous virus to humanize the money machine that is the NFL, and to humanize a cold man who might have had his finest moment as commissioner, and to humanize the steely coach feeding treats to his miniature Husky. But that’s exactly what happened in this technologically scotch-taped th NFL Draft. For three days in the sports-starved United States, it was just what we needed — the one thing on the sports calendar that was notcellable, presented with the humility these times demanded. One story: This was Joe Douglas’ first draft as the GM of the New York Jets. He’d risen through the scouting departments of the Ravens and Bears and Eagles to this mountainous gig. He’d have to draft from the impromptu setup in his New Jersey home, not in his comfort zone of the Jets draft room. His wife, Shannon, offered to keep their three children in the basement, away from his temp draft room, but he said no, he wanted them to experience it. Shannon used her iPhone to video his first pick — tackle Mekhi Becton — from just outside the room Thursday night, and when it was done, the kids burst in. His 27 – year-old daughter, Addison, hugged him and said, “I am so proud of you, Dad!”
“All right, Addison,” Douglas said. “You’re making me misty here.”
The burly Douglas got misty on national TV, with about 31 million people watching. There was a lot of emotion in the best NFL draft I’ve ever seen.
thick column. Settle in, stay safe, and digest all the oddities and goodness about draft weekend:
[Picks] Surprise! I’m in a draft room! (Virtually.) Much ado about nothing: Drafting (football players went off without a hitch.
- Back to the future, (Aaron Rodgers) [Patrick Mahomes] The strange journey of Joe Burrow will continue this week on some patch of grass in Appalachia. Denver’s in an arms (and legs) race with the Chiefs . John Lynch’s grade for his fourth draft: Is there something higher. than “A-plus?” Did Roger Goodell just flip the script on Roger Goodell?
- I do believe Sean Payton might have saved someone’s life last week . [Louisville tackle Mekhi] Alex Smith ‘s very serious brush with death goes public this week. [Louisville tackle Mekhi] Jacob Eason is ready to sacrifice something quite important to wow the colts. A humble home for Jameis Winston ‘s gap year.
- (First, the draft itself.) Carolina Panthers seconds-round pick Yetur Gross-Matos , with family and friends. (NFL / Getty Images)
Five weeks ago, when few football people had ever videoconferenced, the NFL establishment groused about this show-must-go-on draft. Two weeks ago, the technology that would power this draft, Microsoft Teams, was a stranger to every football person in the league. A week ago, a two-minute glitch early in a practice draft reinforced the belief that some internet implosion might wreck it. The NFL set up three ways for GMs to pick 685 players, and put in place a timeout system so if some GM’s 6-year-old kid spilled a drink on a keyboard, the league would press the pause button on the draft.I asked the league’s draft czar, NFL vice president of player personnel Ken Fiore , who has worked drafts, if he had to stop the clock for any reason on any of the 685 picks over three days — if any team went over the allotted time for making choices.“None,” Fiore said Saturday evening, two hours after the draft abstract . “Came close a couple of times, but no. It ran similar to a regular draft. The only word I can think of to describe this draft is ‘flawless.’ ”It’s a sign of the times that the nine-man Draft Ops department, headed by Fiore, worked from their homes, Fiore on Long Island and his eight lieutenants from various homes in Manhattan, New Jersey, Rochester, NY, Phoenix and Nashville. Fiore was one of a three-person trade group, confirming with both teams the terms of all 49 trades over three days. Draft Ops communicated the picks and trades to a mask-wearing NFL aide in Goodell’s basement, and to ESPN headquarters in Connecticut, where the live shots from among remote cameras in homes of coaches, GMs, prospects and reporters were waiting to be used. From cool Joe Burrow on the couch with his parents in the living room in The Plains, Ohio, to Bill Belichick, on Nantucket giving treats to his dog Nike, to Goodell looking like he needed a nap in his leather La-Z-Boy late in the third round Friday night, to the Jets’ fourth-round pick, quarterback James Morgan in Green Bay, celebrating with his family like they’d just won the Super Bowl or the $ 574 – million Powerball, to the glum Jake Fromm With his family, melting in Warner Robins, Ga., till he was picked in the fifth round. . . all so human. So without frills. So 5074 America.On Sunday, ESPN vice president of production Seth Markman said that, other than a few slight delays between anchor Trey Wingo and field reporters and players, the telecast had no significant technical issues. “I loved how everyone embraced it,” Markman said. Nobody moved the camera, nobody covered the camera, nobody seemed annoyed. Coaches and GMs with families were great — people will never forget Bill Belichick and his dog. They all embraced this new reality. ”The public got to see things it never does, instead of the awful war -room shots that are so . The Matt Nagy game plan wall, the John Harbaugh birdhouses, the Jerry Jones yacht, the Matt Rhule kid cheerleaders, the Kliff Kingsbury Architecture Digest living room, the kids, the kids, the kids. As Douglas told me: “My experience in the NFL is, you get in the weeds of draft prep, and then you draft, and you get home after midnight, and everyone’s asleep. You never experience the draft with your family. This year was an unintended plus. I loved being together for it. ”Give credit to NFL people who treat this weekend, rightfully, as being as important as a game week. More important to some franchises. They recognized the condition of the country, and the role the NFL played in it. Saints GM Mickey Loomis, who wanted the draft pushed back for more info-mining, said Saturday night he loved having his kids involved, loved that the league raised so much money for COVID – relief and this: “The concerns many of us had related to technology did not materialize. For us, nothing went wrong. ”