By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) For all the valid criticism one can throw at the NFL as a monolithic, dystopian cabal of death, damn if it doesn’t make fantastic theater. No American entity better dopes up our brains with endorphins to drown out conscience and logic like The Shield. And in the league’s perfecting of drug-religion that time and again wins the internal conflict between decency and orgy-porgy of bloodadvertisingpatrioticlust, there’s nothing more emblematic than the annual NFL Draft.
For me, the draft isn’t even about teams trying to improve themselves and breaking down which players fit best where. Apologies to those who ply a trade in such analysis, but in the end it’s all a gamble, and none of us is sure of any player’s career future.
(By the way, stay tuned all weekend to 670 The Score and 670TheScore.com for Chicago’s very best draft analysis and breakdowns live from Draft Town!)
Nah, I’m in this for the absurdity, the really weird. And I’m not just referring to the draftees’ suits. It’s the adult fans in jerseys attending the festivities for some reason and having visceral reactions to deecisions they can’t control or predict. It’s the gravitas and over-seriousness of sports, the commissioner presiding over a vibe like a Scientology awards presentation, the contemplation of how we as supposedly rational human beings get jacked up year in and year out for a combination of a child pageant and an auction.
At first I was against the NFL expanding its draft to three days and prime time — that knee-jerk conscience thing being bothered by what the further monetization and commodification of people says about our whacked values — but Roger Goodell, Inc. won me over as it always does. I fully concede that I enjoy being awash in bright lights and fashion statements and infographics and adults having serious conversations about freakish 20-somethings’ intangibles and football IQ and character issues and they become gladiators for a machine that doesn’t love them.
Gosh, it’s detestably awesome.
Day 1 of the 2016 Draft didn’t disappoint. Off the top of my head, I can’t name five of the top 10 picks from Thursday night even though I heard every one made. The Chicago Bears traded up for a really athletic guy who might be good! Or he might not be! Wow! Again, it’s not about square pegs and round holes, X’s and O’s. Nope. The draft is an event because of its freak show aura that I fully buy into.
Here are my most favoritest parts from the opening act of the circus.
Tunsil, the offensive tackle from Ole Miss, had his social media accounts hacked minutes before the first pick, and a Game of Thrones plot twist bedlam ensued on Twitter (which is the best medium to take in the draft). I feel terrible for Tunsil that some vindictive person out there would screw the guy over like this using two incredibly stupid Victorian hangups we as a society have — chiding smoking weed and condoning college sports’ indentured servitude. Neither means Tunsil is a bad person nor a liability to a football team. Yet he now gets to do the exact same job with the Miami Dolphins that he could have done with any top 10-picking team, but for $7 million-ish less.
“It’s all part of what makes the draft so exciting,” Roger Goodell, devoid of emotions that normal humans possess, actually said about the situation. “Clubs make decisions. Sometimes they take risks. Sometimes they do the right things. Sometimes they don’t, and we’ll see. Hopefully, he is going to turn out to be a great young player.”
We are a laughably bad collective, and I hope Tunsil is a Hall of Famer someday.
Johnny Manziel watching from a bar before a Bieber concert
Before I mention of word of Manziel vis-à-vis football, he’s a multiple-accused woman beater. Always consider that first before indulging in the pathos of a bro whose life so far is perfect fodder for a 30 for 30 film.
Anybody who tells you the saga of Johnny Manziel is a tragedy is a bigger clown than Manziel is. For all the draconian meat grindery the NFL is for its personnel, Manziel’s no victim. Any sighing over him is white male supremacy lamenting its own and “really hoping he gets help” while largely ignoring (or condemning) a Josh Gordon or Laremy Tunsil as “idiot throwing away a future” and tacitly forgiving dudes who are awful to women. To hell with Johnny Foosball.
But more important than all that, Manziel’s out of football watching an updated version of the most dramatic night of his professional life from a mere two years ago on a TV in a bar before going to a Justin Bieber show. We are through the looking glass here, people. This is a Charlie Kaufman script.
My spirit animal at Germain Ifedi’s draft party
The Denver Broncos go from one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play winning them a Super Bowl to his retirement to his co-starter(?) leaving in free agency to trading up to get … this.
I have a severe allergy to x’s in the middle of names and their -ton suffixes. More so to sentient Guy Fawkes masks. I’m not rooting against Lynch based solely on superficialities, but I really am.
Mike Ditka’s beard
Look at it.
LOOK. AT. IT.
Two weeks ago, I believed in only two things: the immortality of Prince in a perfect purple world and the immortality of Ditka’s mustache as flag bearer on an orange horizon. I’ve now been shaken to my very core in consecutive weeks.
What does it mean, Coach? Is it a commentary on the winter of the human condition? Are you writing a memoir on traveling the country by boxcar? Are you trying to capture the essence of a deranged Donald Trump supporter? Are you prepping for a beard-coloring endorsement deal? Tell us, Coach.
And the beard casts a snowy pall around the eyes. They really stab me. There are a thousand stories aching in those eyes, and dozens have nothing to do with attaching one’s name to anything for a buck.
Day 2 of the NFL Draft will likely see a drop in the oddities that keep us rapt on this weird ritual, but it will have my attention because this isn’t about large men donning team caps and fitting into depth charts.
It’s about the possibility that one of our city’s wandering coyotes could maul Rahm Emanuel on live television.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.