If we have anything left to say about March Madness, I don't know what it is.
We sports fans—who rarely agree on anything—can uniformly concur that the NCAA Tourney affords us a splendid occasion to devote ourselves completely to the greatest spectacle in amateur sports.
In the matter of 150 short minutes, bandwagons are emptied and others overflow as the pundits sit squarely behind their mics explaining why what they knew was going to happen, just didn’t. March Madness outcomes are quick and its bracketed results are custom tailored for seekers of instant gratification.
But as this year’s daffodils prematurely piece the topsoil, mustard seeds of yet another glorious event in sport begin to take root in our minds. In an instance, the spotlight soon pans over as the finest collegiate football players take back center stage in the theater of youth, and digital media follows the action better than anyone.
When the curtain rises on next week’s NFL draft, something magical will happen. The publicly stated opinions of Joe Fan will trump the actual accumulated game stats and combine measurements of the athletes themselves. This rampant speculation over which team will select which player carries the same zeal as a daytrader flush with a healthy IRS refund.
The long shots, sure things, best bets and diamonds in the rough all will soon transform into the parade of fresh faces who ascend the stage for a few seconds to flank Commissioner Goodell, their heads and shoulders appropriately donned with New Era caps and Nike jerseys in a coronation ceremony of their very young lives.
At the epicenter of all the fury rests one young man with the maturity of a grizzled pro.
Andrew Luck dazzled every NFL scout with a stopwatch, pad and pen. Having shaved the scraggly Amish beard he wore in-season, Luck confirmed during his one-on-one session with ESPN's Jon Gruden what we've all heard and discussed over pints and quarts: This guy is special, not only for his football talent, but for his value as a student, citizen and human being. He possesses all the humility and self-effacing style that GMs love, exhibiting an X Factor beyond his greatness on the gridiron. Score: Stanford Football 1, Kentucky Basketball 0.
How big is this X Factor? Just ask my Colts fan friends. They’ll readily point up how the fortunes in Indianapolis were made during their last #1 Draft pick in 1998 by the simple selection of Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf. Few will fess up that at the time anyone actually expressed doubt that Manning would prove the better choice. Many did. And one choice brought this carpetbagging team a string of Division Championships, two AFC Championships, a Lombardi Trophy, a new stadium, a Super Bowl to host and a much-needed civic identity. Whither the Leaf proponents now?
But Luck hardly headlines the only great story entering into or coming out of the Draft. The interviews and NBC Olympics-style human interest stories have flooded CBS College Sports, ESPN and the eponymous NFL Network this past week. Every team has a horse in the race, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
ESPN couples its offering with in-studio workouts of inside linebackers that freeze, flash a stat and repeat more often than the “back and to the left” trial scene in Oliver Stone’s “JFK,” and the network hardly seems to yield enough time to the start of the NHL Playoffs.
In total, more than 200 young men will hear their name called and bask in the bright glow of financial bliss, if only for a few months before the “Hard Knocks” reality settles in amid the heat of July training camps.
In this unfolding drama, the Draft stakes one team's coal against another man's diamond, and this is precisely why digital media matters.
The NFL Draft, through the digital lens, provides the center cut distinction between guys who merely watch football, and men who simply can't live without the NFL and its cavalcade of star-power players. I clearly fall in the latter camp, and enhance that line by adding that the Chicago Bears are my lifeblood.
But truth be told, what the Bears player-personnel execs do next with their current 19th position picks next Thursday through Sunday probably ranks less importantly to me than the stories, blogs, posts, tweets and texts of all those online media “monsters” I call Bears fans. Multiply this by 32 teams, and that's why the draft matters and why only online media can service the needs of those fans from TV to laptops to tablets and smartphones.
When the highlight reels have cooled and the keyboard keystrokes have abated, one question remains until that pigskin takes its initial glorious flight in September: How good was your team's NFL draft? Guess you'll have to go online and find out for yourselves, unless you're satisfied with Mel Kiper's singular POV.
Oh, to all those Mad Men and Women reading this and wondering what this draft hoopla has to do with them: April 27 seems like a prime window to launch that new NFL brand campaign. But, hey, that's just one consumer's opinion.