Twas the Night Before the Draft….
Apologies. I am no Clement Clark Moore so no draft parodied rendition of his work since old souls make bad poets. However, what Moore captured in his epic poem “A visit from St. Nicholas” is the same feeling I get in the days and hours leading up to the NFL draft. I have for years, even going back to my early teenage years. I was reading prospect reports and marking down my favorites in hopes that my beloved Buccaneers would strike gold.
You see, I grew up in the 1980’s when the Bucs were better known as the Yucs, when a 5 win season was a major accomplishment. That decade Tampa would set a mark for the lowest winning percentage of any professional franchise in any sport. It was a tough time to love the home town team. We dressed in a very unmanly creamcicle orange which challenged the masculinity of many a man and was particularly daunting for those coming of age to wear. It saw us coached by the likes of Ray Perkins, Leeman Bennett, and Richard Williamson. As perhaps only a teenager learning to rebel against the world could, no matter what the experts said, no matter how bad things were the previous season, at the start of the season I always had hope that this would be our year to rise.
That hope for me always began with draft day, back then the draft was a dozen rounds of new player goodness. Back then really the only drafts guide in town (with in depth coverage) were Ourlads and Mel Kiper’s blue book. I remember in the weeks leading up to the draft eagerly anticipating their arrival in the mail. I used all Kiper’s materials along with a touch of my own watching to create my large boards (cork board with notebook pages for each position), and eagerly awaited the blessed Saturday when the draft would begin.
It was long, poorly scripted for TV and after the first couple of rounds to watch it on ESPN all you could see was the ticker at the bottom of the screen showing you who had been drafted, in what slot, and by what team. Nonetheless I persevered, patiently notching players off my large lists and hoping to see Tampa grab that one guy I’d pegged down in the rough who I thought could be something unique. I remember my joy back in 1992 when Tampa drafted a virtually unknown kid from Baylor named Santana Dotson in the 5th round, I was so excited I called friends who didn’t know who he was or cared. I was over the moon when he went on to be NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year earning the nickname “Sacktana”. I was much less overjoyed when he was highly middling every year after that.
The imagining before the draft is great hoping, your team gets your guy. However, just like Christmas morning new toys are always appreciated. If you wanted the model Death Star but got the Millennium Falcon instead you still had a new toy that was oh so fun to play with. Through Testaverde, Lawrence Dawsey, Horace Copeland, and dozens of other picks as they came off the board to Tampa, whether they realized it or not, they had a new fan. I was suddenly a champion of their cause and hoped they would make us champions.
I was a “draftnik” long before the term was used as a general description, back when it was a pejorative for the “geeks” who crowded around the screens to watch a non-sporting event. Deep down maybe I knew my beloved Buccaneers were doomed but for two straight days in April I could dream of a better future. For two days and a week in April the Sports Radio would be abuzz with interviews with draftee’s and analysis spoken on the air. I’d call into Steve Duemig’s show and opine and share my adolescent thoughts on just how great our draftees were. I had not yet grasped that new toys get broken and some players will too, but for just that one brief moment, like a shiny new Falcon, everyone was perfect and brimming with promise.
I don’t play with the Millennium Flacon anymore and now, more a realist, and having learned a few things about scouting, I’m more reasoned. Not every prospect excites me like a new toy, I am now painfully aware that even those who do may not work out. Now I know that QBs taken in late rounds are more likely to be successful broadcasters than Hall of Fame QBs (Pat O’Hara anyone?) but nonetheless for the briefest of moments I can still have hope.
The draft isn’t the same either, its moved to prime time on a Thursday night and is such an event it can compete for viewers with the NBA playoffs (a real game). To me it's still the most wonderful time of the year though, other than a Super Bowl in which Tampa plays. It’s a season of possibilities even if it's commercialized, with raucous fans of all teams journeying to New York to see it live. It’s no longer in April having been moved to May. Mel Kiper doesn’t even publish his blue book anymore and draft analysis is wall to wall on nearly every social media site. I’ve grown up, added work and life responsibilities and couldn’t even find the time this year to publish my own. I managed a lot of scouting, but the writing is the long part, to tell a player’s story in a paragraph or two and be willing to put my name next to it, well I just couldn’t make the time.
So perhaps it is fitting that this year I’ll once again be sitting watching the draft with a virtual big board and reams and reams of notebooks filled with notes on various prospects. My friends won’t know 85% of the players drafted, my co-workers and employees will all only talk about the first round, my wife will painfully endure me glued to the TV for three days of wall to wall action. Yet I’ll be here notching prospects off my list and dreaming of a great future for Tampa. Hoping they grab a player I love, remembering times when the world of the NFL was as new to me as a Christmas gift freshly unwrapped. It’s draft time and nothing will excite me as much as the possibility that sometime between May 8th to 10th my beloved Buccaneers will be drafting a future Hall of Famer. Maybe it's left over childhood fancy or simply the eternal dream of improvement but, for a little while at least, we can hope and dream and imagine as if our team has dangled its feet in the waters of perfection. Okay, one quick paraphrased poem as memories of youth transform the old soul into spring:
Twas the night before the NFL draft, while all through the home war rooms,
Not a Bucs fan was settled, anticipating a future full of draft booms;
The boards were all posted and lists were made,
Some dreamed of Watkins or Manziel and some for a rearward trade;
Some recalled the warm winter of 2002 and defense so that come this fall,
we get to hear Berman proclaim, the team that invented losing has finally won it all;
Ahh such a magical week to be a Buc’s fan even if, after some regular play ,
our prospects maybe broken, we will still hope on this magical day;
ever an optimist and despite no reports I still humbly pray,
I’ll be hoping to hear Tampa has become Bridgewater Bay;
Whether you fancy my vision or hope another is picked,
Here’s hoping we get shiny gifts from Lovie and Jason Licht;
may they cling to their board and find value just right,
so that come January we’ll know we’ve had a great draft night.
So I’ve shared my draft day dream with you, well the first part Teddy Bridgewater to Tampa. Forget what you think will happen for just a moment, which player do you hope above hope hears his name called by Tampa on draft night?