As free agency has been reduced do a dull roar, or for Bucs fan, a faint whisper, we as fans need a source of optimism to give us something to look ahead. In the months of March and April, that source is the NFL draft. We're far enough removed from the 2009 season that every team, minus the Saints, have laid the memories of 2009 to rest. 2010 is far enough off that we can begin to feel a bit of optimism, not only for the new season, but the changes we hope it brings. While free agency is the first stepping stone on the proverbial yellow brick road, the NFL draft is surely the next 3 miles of bricks in our path to the 2010 season.
The draft seems to be the favorite offseason event for most fans, and with good reason. It's not about shelling out millions of dollars to already established stars, it's about the next Hall of Famer, the next superstar that you have watched through college ball. It's about watching a player be picked by your team and being a part of the ride as he goes from NCAA player, to rookie, on to young stud, perennial All-Pro and then coaxing a few more seasons out of the sure fire Hall of Famer. It's a chance to get in on the ground floor with a player, buy his jersey, memorize his college stats and then sit back as he starts his journey towards greatness. Anyone can tell you Peyton Manning is a stud quarterback, but not everyone can say they were on the bandwagon since the last week in April of his draft year.
As a fan, I see the draft as an endless list of possibilities. The questions that we've been asking will all be answered; Who do we take, do we trade down, what's our biggest need, is this enough to improve our team, how do they fit in, and how long until we are back on top. We wait for 10 minutes at a time while front office personnel single-handedly shape the future of our team. We do mock drafts, we meet at the watercooler, and we pen our thoughts on blogs and forums, all with the hope that the team makes the right pick, which we surely have.
Each team starts out with the same picks. There is no favoritism, there is no bias. You can do what you want with each pick. Some end up with more picks than others, some teams trade them away, but the draft is a free for all with 32 teams that each want one thing, the next big thing to take them to the Super Bowl. Each draft entree wants the same thing, to be hitched to a winner and the paycheck to match it.
We sit less than 4 weeks until the draft right now. Staff and community have brought forward their picks, sleepers, surefire winners and potential busts. Opinions may vary, but the goal is the same. Get this team back in the right direction. The 2009 draft produced some solid players and some the Bucs think will be potential Pro Bowlers. And while 2009 may have been the year of the quarterback for the Bucs, 2010 will be the draft we look back on in 5 years and see the direction our franchise took. With 11 picks, 5 in the top 99, this draft is surely the crossroads for the Tampa Bay team. Miss on the majority of picks and jobs will be lost, fans will flee, and the team may go down with the proverbial ship. Hit on most of the picks, and we may be singing songs on Dale Mabry come the month of February.
The days and weeks leading up to the draft brings hope for each franchise and their fans. We are all convinced that this is the year we get to the big game, or that this is the year we take the necessary steps to get the team back on track. This is the time of year when regardless of how 2009 turned out, we can start looking forward to 2010. As a fan I know that there are no guarantees, that hitting on your picks is just as likely as missing. But I still hold out that the Bucs get the next MVP and that I can find a jersey to wear for the next 10+ years.
As an invested fan I live and die with the team. I was sitting there along with all of you as we opened up the season with 5 of the worst games I've seen. I was there when they notched win #1 against the Packers and I was there when the season closed with a whimper. We all watched free agency open up with no action and now I sit and wait for the draft.
To adapt a somewhat famous quote, I can probably describe how most of us feel in the time before the draft. "I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a invested fan can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make through the draft. I hope I can make it through the lean years. I hope to see our draftees and shake their hand. I hope the Lombardi Trophy is as bright as it has been in my dreams. I hope."