Will the real Jim Harbaugh please stand up?

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Remember why Quinn Nordin is kicking for Michigan football and not for Penn State?  Remember who plans slumber parties with prospective recruits?  Remember who presented the Pope with a Michigan football helmet?  Well, to be more precise, who presented the Pope with a Michigan helmet and a pair of maize and blue shoes?

 Remember who told his team not to eat chicken, a “nervous bird”?  Remember which Division I football coach wore number four as first base coach for the Detroit Tigers?  Remember which coach put together a rap video?  Remember which coach was the correct answer to a question on the Simpsons – “a sports genius that everyone hates.”  For that matter, remember which coach has a fan crush on Judge Judy.

Let’s also remember which coach was blasted for establishing “satellite camps”, 10 camps in seven states, then remember the coach who walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama when bringing a camp to Alabama.  Maybe remember who stood on Omaha Beach with his team as Taps was played in honor of the 9000 American soldiers who gave their lives there on D-Day.

The truth is that last season was tough, tough on the team, tough on the coaches, and tough on fans.  Losses to Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, an 8-5 season and 4th place in the division hurt, watching a stalled offense hurt, watching quarterbacks flounder hurt.

There were some obvious obstacles to success last year, and hopes at the start of the season were probably unrealistic, but all bets are off when it comes to Jim Harbaugh and Michigan football.  In a landscape of taskmasters and oily self-promoters, Jim Harbaugh is both a character and a man of character.

He has strong feelings.  “I drink a lot of milk … A lot of milk.  Whole milk though.  Not the candy-ass two-percent or skim milk.”  “The football gods have provided us with heat and sun to shape the body and carve the mind.”  “My default is ‘yes’ when asked to do things.”  And, perhaps the most striking, in describing his attitude toward coaching, “I’m as happy as a pig in slop.”  He wore a Colin Kaepernick jersey at Michigan’s Sacramento camp and in an interview with Sports Illustrated observed, “For Colin, and what Colin’s doing and has been doing, when you really stop and listen and know where Colin is coming from…he’s trying to do this for his future kids, for my kids, for all of our kids. He’s a special person and a hero, in my opinion.”

A column by Bill Gordon, Ph.D., in Psychology Today examined America’s infatuation with Jim Harbaugh.  Gordon considered all of the qualities already mentioned, but took the question of Harbaugh’s popularity to those who know him best.:

“…  his many humanitarian deeds add yet another level of subconscious appeal.  I asked several top Michigan related Internet social media groups, such as Michigan Football HQ, The University of Michigan M Club, Michigan Proud and True, and Big Ten Talk why they liked Jim Harbaugh. U of M alumnus, Bruce Laing, encapsulates the majority opinion: He will instill toughness and accountability in the athletes, posted Laing in the University of Michigan M Club.  Our children’s futures are vital, so we embrace the importance of education, accountability and toughness because they galvanize that future; yet  another reason America is instinctually drawn to Harbaugh.”

Michigan has an extraordinary coach, a coach with rare ability to motivate, inspire, and teach.  We need all that only Harbaugh can offer. The team faces what may be the toughest schedule in college football, and there are still questions about the offensive line, running backs, receivers, and starting quarterback.  The opening game against Notre Dame is plenty daunting enough, and there will be moments of consternation on the sideline.

And that is when fans want the real Jim Harbaugh to stand up.  Yes, measured rationality is a good quality to present during a battle, but the team and its fans need a little wild man, a little Henry V, a little “we band of brothers,” some hopping on one foot, slapping of helmets, screaming at refs, tossing of clipboards.

We want to see the competitive genius of Jim Harbaugh at a fever pitch.  We want a Jim Harbaugh who is over the top and almost too much.  Just take off the headphones, Jim, and kick something.

We believe in Jim Harbaugh and only want to see him do what he can do best.  After all, when it comes to looking at leadership at the top of the Michigan football program, “Who’s Got It Better Than Us?”

Twenty Four Days Until Kickoff

College Football, Sports history

I receive the occasional urgent message from and about University of Michigan sports, primarily alerting me to the importance of the next football, hockey, basketball, or volleyball game.  I scan them all, which is odd in that I did not attend the University of Michigan, have not sent children to the University of Michigan, and have very few friends or acquaintances who are connected with the University of Michigan.  And yet…. on game days I sit in my living room in Oregon wearing my lucky Wolverine cap and any one of my Michigan t-shirts or jerseys.  I wear a less lucky, sweat stained Michigan cap out in the world, responding to those who recognize and share my fondness for the university with a hearty “Go Blue!”.  Two of my children have grown up with my elaborate game day rituals and have become Michigan fans, slightly less likely to wear Michigan gear and much less likely to stop strangers on the street to talk Michigan football, but loyal to the Blue nonetheless.

I’m not entirely sure how it is that sports keep me sane, and my game day behavior certainly does not look like measured sanity, but for a few moments I’m not keeping track of global warming, the loss of species, political chicanery,  inequality, injustice, and the looting of America.  Thoughtful observers of my quasi-fanaticism will argue that we’re talking more than a few moments, as I do enjoy the four-day ramp up to the next game and allow myself a day or two of celebration or consolation after the last game.  I enjoy those pick up conversations as well, some of which are with fans of other programs.  I don’t have much in common with several acquaintances, but I do know that they are as captivated by sport as I am.  I know who their team faces on Saturday and am more than willing to run through their lineup even if we never get around to my current favorite topic: Michigan’s chances in the opening game against Notre Dame.

I’m not stupid.  I know that Michigan’s chances against Notre Dame aren’t great.  Well,  I know, but how can I?  Who really knows?  Hope springs eternal.  One leg at a time.  And so on.

I experience a second level of puzzling emotional instability even as I name Notre Dame or more frequently, Ohio State.  I do have friends with attachments to those universities.  They are good people; they have not poisoned my pets or stolen my identity.  And yet I loathe their alma maters with unvarnished ferocity.  This does seem marginally unreasonable.  And yet …

I’ve lived in each quadrant of the United States and have found that with one exception, each asks a newcomer to commit.  Duke or Carolina?  Alabama or Auburn?  Florida or Georgia?  I grew up in New England where state universities served their constituents well but had not attached themselves to signature athletic programs at the national level.  As I travelled through the greater world then, I had no ready rejoinder when put on the spot.  I have significant memories of the years I lived and worked in Michigan.  One of my children was born there.  Ann Arbor was within easy driving distance and season ticket holders were generous, inviting me to Michigan’s stadium, The Big House.  I sat with 107,601 rabid wolverines and gave my heart away.

It’s been a bleak summer here in Oregon; the heat is brutal and fires continue to funnel smoke into the Rogue Valley.  The Red Sox are running away with the division title and LeBron is going to the Lakers.  Bleak, I say,  and unlikely to change, but when the “24 Days to Kickoff: alert hits my mailbox, the fog lifts, the clouds part, and for a moment, all is right with the world.

I do have a life outside of Michigan football, one in which I care for my family, consider the great questions and think long thoughts.  I read a fair bit and write as well.  There’s the grounds work to do and dogs to romp.  After all, game day is just one day … except that I’ve just committed to writing for GBMWolverine again, bringing the older fan’s perspective to a young man’s game.  I think that will be ok; an hour or so a day is relatively easy to grab, especially as I have followed the Marie Kondo’s advice and actively begin the art of tidying up, keeping only those things that “spark joy”.  I’ve got another box of books in the car, mostly history books untouched since my college years.  I remember them fondly but not a lot of joy sparking when I took them down from the shelf.

I’m a work in progress.  Keep the flannel shirt?  Time to admit that I really don’t need three sets of golf clubs?  The Barbie Michigan Cheerleader set?

A work in progress.

Beauty and the Beast – Steph and LeBron

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I’m watching NBA playoff games, and that’s as unlikely as my setting up a herpetarium in the bedroom.

I am a total bandwagon fan of the NBA, only following the sport for the past three years after almost twenty years of thinly veiled contempt for professional basketball and for what I considered its grotesquely overpaid  divas – both players and coaches.

I’d been a fan in my boyhood, unattached to any particular team; I liked individual players, each of whom was a hero for differing reasons.  I grew up in New England and saw more of the Boston Celtics than any other team, and those years were very good years for Boston, so my attention was often focused there.  Bob Cousy (The Houdini of the Hardwood) was a brilliant passer and playmaker, slick, deft, bordering on flashy but so passionate about the game that his behind-the-back no-look passes to equally adept teammates – Bill Sharman, Tommy Heinsohn, K.C. Jones – were simply part of a Celtic machine that operated with surgical precision.  Equally talented as an offensive player, the Celtics’ Bill Russell was a defensive genius, a shot blocker, rebounder, and a team leader who took the Celtics to 11 championships in his 13 seasons with the team. If I’d known the phrase, I would have said I admired Russell because he played within himself, a warrior handing opponents one slam after another with calm dispatch.

I didn’t much care for Wilt Chamberlain; he was conspicuously taller than the rest of the league (and humanity) so his scoring seemed inevitable.  Much later, when I saw the documentary about Chamberlain’s years as a waiter in the Catskills, I found him more interesting.  I did care quite a bit about four or five other luminaries – Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor for example.   I was a sophomore in high school when Baylor pumped in 61 points against the Celtics in game 5 of the 1962 finals.  Baylor was an incredible athlete with a smooth jump shot and remarkable rebounding skill.  I’ve always admired rebounders , so I’ll put Bob Pettit and Jerry Lucas on my list as well.

All of which is to explain that I stuck with the NBA watching the Lakers,  Detroit’s Bad Boys, Jordan and Pippen, John Stockton … and then/but then  … the lockout.  Jordan to the Wizards. Kobe and Shaq.  Isaiah Thomas and Jim Dolan.  Practice, we’re talking about practice.  Ron Artest.  Tanking otherwise known as “the process”.  Players demanding trades from small markets.  Players firing coaches.  Personalities larger than teams. Teams out of the chase before the season began – Phoenix, Memphis, Dallas, Sacramento, Atlanta, Chicago, Brooklyn, New York, Charlotte.

Back to Kobe.  As others have noted, unimpeachably brilliant player (at times), probably no more silly and egomaniacal than many superior athletes, but somehow allowed by the Lakers’ owners to run a dynasty into the ground.  Kobe sucked the air out of the league and replaced competition with contention.  There were still great players on the floor, but the tone of the game had soured.  Yeah, I’m blaming my disaffection with the league on Kobe, although the game itself had grown stale and formulaic.  Remember, this was the era in which the Spurs were an outlier because they played as a team.

My son and I saw LeBron James play in his senior year at Saint Mary’s High School in Akron, Ohio.  At least three of St. Mary’s games were televised that year, pretty much the only regular season high school games broadcast at that time, but LeBron had already moved into the pantheon of remarkable athletes sometime between his junior and senior year.  Sure, it was high school basketball, and some of the play was spotty, but this 6’5 high school kid ran the floor as if he was literally a man among boys.  His physical presence was notable; he had grown four inches since his freshman year, and he was less bountifully muscled than he has become, but rock solid and capable of bouncing defenders at will.  To use the scouting lingo, he had hops, a smooth stroke, and saw the floor.  What most impressed me though, in addition to this kid’s mature charisma, was his ability to dish the ball to teammates with stunning precision.  I’d seen Shaq play at LSU, and he moved well for a 7 foot kid approaching 300 pounds, was clearly a force of nature, but did not have LeBron’s mastery of the game.  Shaq could rebound and drop a hook shot, but he played in reaction to the game around him.  Even as a high school senior, LeBron created the game.

OK, willing to endure Stephon Marbury, Allen Iverson, Dwight Howard, and Kobe, to see how the phenom would turn out, and that meant watching the Cavs who were not good, so not good, that there was talk that Carmelo Anthony and Dywane Wade were more likely to emerge as stars.  By the end of his second season, LeBron had pulled the Cavs above .500 and was averaging almost 30 points a game, despite being the only threat on the floor for the Cavs.  “The Decision” broadcast in 2010 took LeBron to Miami and created the first of the athlete controlled “super” teams, interesting in the abstract, but indicative of the character of NBA basketball at the time; the Spurs remained the only team operating as a team.  I lost interest in seeing Kobe and Carmelo hog the ball and spent my winters hoping the Red Wings could figure things out before sliding into irrelevance in the NHL.

LeBron’s return to Cleveland awakened my curiosity, (do you remember the East before the Celtics and Sixers were reanimated?) and the drive toward a championship season had all the elements of mythic battle, particular to the City of Cleveland and to LeBron.  He had come of age, had multiple MVP seasons and All Star appearances behind him, and was now returning home to do for Cleveland what no other player could have done.  He was bigger, more focused, humbled by the response to his decision, ready to carry this franchise on his back.  There were other impressive players in the league, but none took the team’s success as personally as did LeBron James, and in the playoffs against the Warriors he rose (literally – remember his chasing down Iguodala and blocking the lay-up in game 7?) to the challenge.

LeBron is smart and still sees the floor better than all but one or two guards in the league.  He is 6’8 of ball handling acumen with the ability to crash the boards, go to the rim, loft a three, float a short shot, and sink a fade-away jump shot as the clock winds down.  He is a master of the game with unmatched skill and yet, for all his attainments, LeBron  is a beast – durable, tough, imposing, physical, and driven by a fierce will to win.

The conversation, then, turns to Steph Curry, born in Akron, Ohio, the son of Dell Curry, then playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but with the exception of that accident of birth, the mythos of these two players could not be more unalike.  If LeBron is a force of nature, Steph is the play of sunlight on the water.  OK, that’s out there, but there is joy in Steph’s play even as he takes the role of the baby-faced assassin.  In a sense, for Steph basketball is play and the court a playground.  This is not to say that he lacks competitive fire; he is a relentless competitor, but even in the heat of battle, there’s nothing grim about his play, determined, for sure, but not grim.

Curry was good in high school, very good.  He had played competitive club basketball in Toronto when his dad was with the Raptors and later for Charlotte Christian School, taking them to three state playoffs while winning all conference and all state honors.   Whereas some part of LeBron’s dominance is in being “roughly the size of a barge”,  Curry wore the number 20 on his high school jersey because the 30 jersey was too big for him.  He tipped the Toledos at 130 pounds and stood 5’7  as he began his career at Charlotte Christian.  His games were not televised nationally, but there are some clips available that show him in at the start of his high school career.  From a quick glance and from the testimony of his teammates and coaches, it is clear that Steph had the ball handling skill and shooter’s eye that would distinguish him throughout his collegiate and professional career, but he was small enough, that he had to hold the ball at his shoulder to begin his shot and often had to jump to get a shot past a taller defender.  Even in his high school years it was clear that the only defense against his sharpshooting was to swarm him, suffocate him before he could loft a three.

Coming out of Saint Mary’s, LeBron was the undisputed first pick in the NBA draft.  Curry had hoped to follow his dad in playing for Virginia Tech, but was considered too small to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference.  Lightly regarded by the other members of the strong ACC including Duke and Wake Forest, Steph was recruited by Davidson College, then a formidable member of the Southern Conference.  Davidson with an enrollment just under 2000 is among the most highly regarded academic institutions in the South, routinely called “The Princeton of the South”, and it’s had its moments in the athletic arena as well,   Celebrated coach Lefty Driesell took the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament in the 1960’s, earning a Sports Illustrated’s rank of number one in the nation in 1964.  The next wave of Wildcat fever peaked during Steph’s 2008 season when Davidson knocked off Gonzaga, Georgetown, and a tough Wisconsin team to meet Kansas in the elite eight thanks to Steph’s 30 plus points in each of those games.  At the end of his junior year, Curry was the leading scorer in the nation, a seasoned point guard and the seventh overall pick by the Warriors.

Conjecture runs wild in any conversation about sports and about the composition of teams in particular.  Does the team have chemistry, the players complementary skills, veterans who show composure under pressure, the right coach for the right star, a happy locker room?  And the answer for great teams is, sometimes.

There’s no kind way to describe the Warriors’ franchise that Curry joined in the 2009-2010 season.  Things had been rocky in the prior decade, but in Steph’s first season, the Warriors called up five D League players signed on a ten-day contract.  Yes, the Iowa Energy, the Idaho Stampede, and the Sioux Skyforce coughed up three starters that season.  Nevertheless, Curry averaged 17.5 points a game and was runner-up to Tyreke Evans as the Rookie of the Year.  Injuries plagued Steph throughout the 2011 season, allowing backup, Jeremy Lin, to take the floor when he escaped captivity with the Reno Bighorns.  Curry only appeared in 26 games that year, and many basketball cognoscenti thought the Warriors made a mistake in giving injury-prone Steph Curry an extension on his contract for the 2012 -2013 season.

But here’s where the addition of one player can make an outsized difference.  Klay Thompson joined Steph in the backcourt, and, as the “Splash Brothers”, they rained three point shots on opponents, leading the Warriors to their first playoff in 13 years.  Curry dropped 252 three point baskets that season, combining with Thompson for a total of 483 treys, and the Warriors appeared in the NBA playoffs for the first time in 13 years.

Steph was averaging 24 points a game, had earned the title of “baby-faced assassin” and was still splashing with Thompson as the Warriors got a second playoff sixth seed in the 2013 – 2014 season, but the Warriors current success as a team began to gel when Steve Kerr, the NBA’s most precise three point shooter of all time took the helm in 2014 – 2015.

And here’s where I fall into the adjectival abyss in a lame attempt to evoke the impact of Steph Curry’s shot on me, on the league, on the game, on the future.  It may not matter that his release is as unfailingly elegant as it is, or that the arc is so geometrically precise that the moment the ball leaves his hand we know that Steph’s shot is clear and clean, or that he’s taken the shot from just short of mid-court.  Yes, his shots are beautiful, and yes, I see them in my dreams, but it is in the moments just before the shot that Steph Curry causes one to catch one’s breath.  What words suffice?

Here’s a brief account of how Steph gets space in order to shoot.  He starts with a crossover (ok, not the only crossover in the league) between his legs, followed by a step back, into a cross back, which sounds simple enough (!) except that he has already dribbled past two defenders and shrugged of a third before sensing that the range is right, the defender off-balance, the ball coming off the dribble in just the right ascendency.  He’s moving forward, back, side to side, and then up.

Don’t take my word for it.  An article in the New York Times profiled several ballet dancers who have become basketball fans after having seen Curry in action.  One of these, the director of the Oakland ballet, put it this way, “…he’s not even trying to do something beautiful.  His coach doesn’t tell him how to land, but he does.  It’s innate.  His whole body knows what to do in the air and in the return.”

Steph has already changed the game; his team passes frequently, creates motion and space, and wins consistently.   As we speak, a twelve-year-old somewhere is working on his crossover and another dribbling with two basketballs.  The next generation of basketball players will come up shooting from behind the three point line and handling the ball in an attempt to recreate Steph’s magic.

At the end of this rhapsody, it occurs to me that I’ve come full circle, from boyhood appreciate of the wizardry on the best ball handler of his time (Cousy) and the most physically imposing player of his time (Russell) to LeBron and Steph.  So, in the end, I have to admit that LeBron is also a beauty and Steph some kind of beast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SIS BOOM BAH

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Times have changed, certainly, but lest we forget those who once stood poised by their megaphones, ready to lead a spirited locomotive cheer, let’s remember, shall we, the men of cheer..

Yes, mascots slam dunking off trampolines are among the more amusing spectacles available at halftime, and, yes, the national cheerleading championship broadcast from Disney World does feature impressive pyramid building and endless tossing of small girls into the stratosphere, but doesn’t it all feel contrived, really?

Fired Up and Bring It On took us inside that heartless world of cheer competition, but like the Disney version of cheering, school spirit seems secondary if mentioned at all.  Satan’s Cheerleaders expanded the scope of the genre, but again, was much more about a secondary issue (sacrificing virgins) than rooting a team to glory.   Apparently cheering as cheering lost traction somewhere along the way.

I suppose a modern cheer take on the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland “Hey-let’s-paint-the-old-barn-and-put-on-a-show” montage would present the moment in which the college’s notably mousy librarian jumps from the bleachers as the final minute ticks down, the home team scores, she drops her specs, strips off her cardigan sweater, displays the college’s colors, and leads the crowd in a furious snake dance around the goal posts.  I suppose she could as easily mug the opposing team’s mascot, toss an overweight bobcat to the ground and plant the school’s flag somewhere near its nether bits.  Or not.

Back to the locomotive, a cheer rarely heard on the sidelines these days.  It’s simplicity itself; fans simply follow the leaders in spelling the school’s name, deliberately at first, gathering steam as the cheer is repeated – like a locomotive – get it?  Not too tough on the sidelines at Yale, a bit more challenging at Susquehanna.  Simple, perhaps, but the energy behind the cheer comes from the urging of cheerleaders, men in letter sweaters virtually foaming at the mouth as the cheer grown in intensity.  Toss away any misconception you might have about the popularity of male cheerleaders in the day; these guys were BMOC, Aces,Keen. Mr.Charisma grabbed a microphone, threw his shoulders back, and tossed out the first word. That was enough. That’s all it took.

In the 1880’s Princeton’s lads developed what would come to be known as the skyrocket cheer –

Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!
Tiger. Sis, Boom. Bah Princeton!

In Austen, in 1892, eager Longhorns “borrowed” a cheer in use at Philips Academy Exeter (NH), a school known as PEA:

Hullabaloo! Hoo-Ray! Hoo-Ray!
Hullabaloo! Hoo-Ray! Hoo-Ray!
Varsity! Varsity! UTA!

And the familiar refrain?

Rah! Rah! Rah!
Sis! Boom! Bah!

… It is rumored that the first modern cheer of this sort originated at the University of Minnesota where six male cheerleaders kicked this genre into gear.

Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-u-mah, Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-So-Tah!”

OK, that was fine as far as it went, but some colleges brought a higher level of erudition to the field. Imagine if you will the Britons of Albion College rousing the crowd in 1884 as Olivet came to town:

Io Triumphe! Io Triumphe!

Haben, swaben, rebecca le animore

Whoopy, whoopty, shellerdy veridy;

Broomdy, Ralldy, eyedy pa

Honeka, heneka, wack-a wacka;

Hob, bob, boldibara, boldibara,

Con slomaday, hob, dab, rah!

Albion! RAH!

Occidental borrowed that one wholesale, and others traveled equally well, as did this gem from Mercer University in Georgia.

Ricker-chicker, Boom! Ricker-chicker, Boom!
Ricker-chicker, Ricker-chicker, Boom ! Boom ! Boom !

Even more institutionally specific is the cheer used by years by the fun-loving pranksters at Cal Tech:

Cosine, tangent, secant, sine

Logarithm, logarithm, hyperbolic sign,

3-point-1-4-1-5-9

slide rule, slide rule

Tech, Tech, Tech.

Fun is fun, but every once in a while a college has to step up and celebrate its core values, as is done on the sideline at Indiana’s Earlham College, one of the nation’s most Quakerly of Friends colleges:

Fight, Fight, Inner Light!
Kill, Quakers, Kill!
Knock ’em Down, Beat ’em Senseless!
Do It til We Reach Consensus!

For years, Earlham’s mascot was “Mr. Quaker”, a portly figure the virtual twin of the character shilling for Quaker Oats. Today, however, that bastion of Quakerism has become, “Big Earl”, a fearsome if highly principled avatar.

Who WERE these guys, these captains of cheer squads? Here are but a few: George W. Bush (Head Cheerleader at Andover), Jimmy Stewart (Head Cheerleader at Princeton), Dwight D. Eisenhower (Varsity football star who cheered while injured), Franklin D. Roosevelt (Harvard Cheerleader). What’s changed over the years? Somehow this activity, once entirely controlled by men was transformed, sometime in the 1950’s as pom poms began to replace megaphones. The ranks of women who once cheered is perhaps even more celebrated (Halle Berry, Vanna White, Sandra Bullock, Madonna …. and … Ruth Bader-Ginsburg).

Sis! Boom! Bah!

 

My Brain Is On The Clock

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The NFL Draft captures the attention of 45 MILLION viewers, draws more than 70,000 people who attend in person, lasts for three days, and occupies the hearts and minds of the nation’s most erudite students of sports from the moment the Eagles hoisted the Lombardi Trophy to the moment Roger Goodell chuffs into the microphone to kick off the festivities.

Let’s think about this for a moment … starting with the 45 MILLION, many of whom  admittedly start out watching the draft but fall away somewhere around hour five.  Still, that’s an extraordinary number of people watching what is essentially football bingo.  Just to provide some perspective, slightly more than 18 million tuned in to see the Astros defeat the Dodgers in the last game of the World Series, the Cavs and Warriors averaged about 20 million last season, fewer fans than watched the year before, when the Cavs took the championship, almost 8 million follow professional bowling, and a mere 2.4 million ponied up $100.00 apiece to watch Floyd Mayweather fight Manny Pacquiao.

There are some interesting questions in any draft season, as there are this year.  Premium quarterbacks establish the success of a franchise and there is some doubt that this year’s crop has the goods.  The top four or five this season are decidedly less promising than some in other years, but, hey, someone has to take them, and at least two will go in the first round if not in the first five picks. Case in point -Josh Rosen. Jim Mora, controversial  former coach at UCLA, tossed Rosen, one of the top two quarterbacks in the draft and his former QB, under a bus by suggesting that as a privileged intellectual millennial, his passion for the game has to be questioned.  Rosen may not be a tough-town quarterback like Johnny Unitas or Brett Favre, but the NFL has welcomed a host of qbs from snappy backgrounds, all of whom could be modeling for Ralph Lauren in the off-season.  If the charge is that Rosen is too smart to stay interested in football, which is what Mora seems to have charged, the best quarterbacks on the field right now would be Chris Leak, now in the CFL,  or Terrelle Pryor, both of whom had single digit scores on the Wonderlic test.

So that’s interesting.

Then there’s Saquon Barkley.  Barkley, Penn State’s running back extraordinaire, is a true freak of nature and the most exciting football phenom since Barry Sanders.  Picking up almost 4000 yards and 43 touchdowns is noteworthy, but anyone who saw Barkley play knows that this guy can bust into daylight with or without an opening.  Rumor has it that Penn State really only had two running plays, which, if you have a Saquon Barkley, is really all you need.  This year’s hot question is whether an NFL franchise will use a top pick on Barkley, knowing the half-life of running backs is about two years and remembering that in the last two seasons top running backs came from the middle of the draft.  Several teams could conceivably pass on the most talented athlete in the draft.

So that’s interesting.

In red-hot franchise news, The Cleveland Browns,perennial doormats of the league, have a bunch of nifty picks and could conceivably jump-start a franchise that has been mired in misery.  The NY Football Giants face the inevitable replacement of Eli Manning and may chose to use their highest pick to land one of those three quarterbacks of questionable value.  Do the Giants take a last shot at a playoff with Manning or shoot the moon for the next franchise qb?  How many quarterbacks do the Broncos need this year?  The Jets … ’nuff said.  The Cards have a plan to keep Sam Bradford on the field for 16 games next season; it involves adamantium and homeopathic treatments in which his knees and ankles will be routinely hit with soft mallets.  Oh, so they could need to draft as well.

That’s pretty much it, so one wonders what will draw the millions to the event once again.  It’s been a while since the end of the football season, but colleges will be playing their spring games at about the same time, the NBA and NHL are starting to shape up the playoff slots, and baseball is in full swing (as it were).  Any excuse for a party?  Makes sense, at least on the sports bar and giant tv screen level.

This may be mere cynicism, or more likely the annual squealing of a fan whose franchise will be drafting nothing but interior linemen, but I suggest that the draft allows us, the uninitiated and unpaid fans, the luxury of second-guessing the analytics guys, the scouts, the coaches, the trainers, and team doctors.  I’ve already mentioned the Browns once; their draft history is so appalling that any of us could certainly have done a better job.  Will they self-destruct again this year?  45 Million people will be tuning in to watch it happen.  Want to make a football junkie drool in anticipation of juicy controversy?  Just trot out the list of top draft quarterback flops; it’s a catnip canape for fans of all ages.

Ryan Leaf (2nd overall),  Jamarcus Russell (1st overall), Akili Smith (3rd overall), David Klinger (6th overall), Tim Couch (1st overall), Joey Harrington (3rd overall), David Carr (1st overall), Vince Young (3rd overall), Jeff George (1st overall),

There are more serious issues to be considered in these parlous times; perhaps brains could be employed in service to other more pressing humanitarian efforts, but, no. Apparently we will once again clamor to see young men, only recently mud spattered and bloody, striding to the stage in thousand dollar suits to shake Commissar Goodell’s hand, jam on the ill-fitting team cap so that ears are flattened and spread, and flap a Cleveland Browns jersey with feigned glee.

If only there were some mechanism that allowed us to check the results with a quick scan of a screen, say, or even on the phone we carry in our pockets.  It’s essential, of course, to have the results in real-time as there are only three months between the draft and the first exhibition games.  I suppose we’ll all just have to settle in for the three-day marathon.marathon starting on April 26th.