The ultimate irony contained in the weeks leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft — and didn’t they feel like months, really? — was the number of people who used the internet to suggest the internet somehow would glitch the whole thing into a technological disaster.
It was the dumbest collective prediction since the world freaked out about Y2K.
There were plenty of dreadful outfits revealed as the joint ESPN/NFL Network draft telecast invaded so many private homes, including the draft’s first-ever bathrobe, but the “virtual draft” turned out to be a technological marvel. There might not be a lot of competition for the Sports Emmy Award for Live Sports Special, because the worldwide shutdown means there will be fewer live sports events televised this year than at any point in the past quarter century. But this ought to earn a nomination, regardless.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to shelter-in-place orders and stay-at-home admonishments and virtually no sporting activity. The closest we’ve been to real sports lately have been “College Jeopardy” and “Ellen’s Game of Games.”
The draft was an antidote to this vacancy, and it would have filled the void even if it had been the sporting equivalent of AOL dial-up service. It was not, though. It was briskly produced. It was mostly seamless.
ESPN’s telecast began with a lovely essay voiced by former Colts superstar Peyton Manning, twice a Super Bowl winner, about the country’s need for hope and the hope baked into every edition of the draft.
It took us into the high-styling home of Cardinals coaching Kliff Kingsbury and the sparse arrangement of Bengals coach Zac Taylor. We saw Coke cans littered throughout Sean Payton’s family room. We saw the world’s longest couch with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones smack in the middle. We saw the children of so many coaches and GMs. We saw the family dog of Vikings GM Rick Spielman. One could say that was the first dog in presented in NFL Draft history, but we all saw Johnny Manziel.
The producers cleverly arranged for fans of each team to be posted, Zoom-style — on the TV screen behind commissioner Roger Goodell as he announced each pick.
OK, so it was not a perfect broadcast.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy was creepily close to his home camera when shown as Dallas chose Oklahoma receiver CeeDee Lamb with the 17th overall pick. The event was light on interviews with the prospects chosen. The natural time delay because of the online nature of the draft meant the “reaction shots” of the players selected and their families were mostly pictures of men and women sitting on their sofas with their arms folded as they waited for something to happen that already had happened.
The show fixated too heavily on the personal or familial tragedies of particular prospects, as too often occurs when the Olympics are televised every four years.
And yes, Goodell completely butchered the announcement that Las Vegas, which had been scheduled to serve as host to the draft Thursday night, would be the site of the draft in … well, the commish said “2020.” That was after he initially called Vegas “Dallas” and had to correct himself. After Goodell announced the Raiders’ second first-round pick, Wingo noted need to correct the error and said the draft would be in Vegas in “a couple years.” It was necessary to check Twitter to confirm that the draft, indeed, would be heading there in 2022.
The nature of what took place, though, led to ESPN relying more heavily on analysis and prospect tape. There was a heavier emphasis on the sport of this, which is exactly what America needed. And there are still two more days.