THE ANNUAL NATIONAL FOOTBALL League Draft is coming up this weekend. This is the day, of course, when NFL teams get to choose which players they will turn into instant millionaires.
You probably experienced something like this, Mr. Businessman, when you came out of grad school. Remember how twenty-eight companies prodded you, picked your brain, made you run repeat 40-yard dashes and grass drills, etc., and then one of them chose you and begged you to sign a six-figure signing bonus?Yeah, it's like that. The difference is that no degree is required for a job in the NFL.
In fact, it seems to be quite to the contrary.
There is one requirement, however. To be eligible for the draft, you must - we repeat, must - be a senior. NO UNDERCLASSMEN ALLOWED. Unless, of course, you threaten a lawsuit, break an NCAA rule, lose your eligibility, bring a note from your mother, run 40 yards in 4 seconds flat, or attend the University of Miami.
Fortunately, no one ever said anything about being a graduating senior.
In prehistoric times, a draft wasn't necessary. NFL scouts just swooped into town and stashed players away in hotel closets until they signed the bottom line. When things got out of hand - when the rich got richer and some of the players in the closets were misplaced and never found again - voila, the draft.
The way the draft works is not unlike the way you choose sides on the sandlot. The best players go first and so on until all you have is the fat, slow guys nobody wants (these are the guys who get the degrees). There's a hitch, though. The worst teams get to pick first and the best teams last. Otherwise, the Green Bay Packers would now be working on something like their 20th straight championship, and this would really put off a lot of people in New York and Cleveland and Cincinnati . . . .
Before they ever reach this point, the NFL people go to great lengths to evaluate the collegiate talent - or the collegiate "crop," as they like to say, as if they're a couple of farmers leaning over the fence discussing the barley yield. First, a team sends a scout to Yourtown, USA, to size up a prospect; they weigh him, time him, have him lift heavy objects and put him through a battery of tests similar to the ones you might find in the Marine Corps. Then the scout reports to his boss, who in turn sends another scout to do the very same thing, as if Scout No. 1 were a complete idiot and a liar. Eventually, the general manager himself might test the prospect - especially if the prospect lives in Hawaii or Hollywood.
This way they know FOR SURE if Barry Sanders can run up the middle, if Troy Aikman throws spirals or wounded ducks, and if Deion Sanders can cover the down and out.
Why the NFL folks must go through this troublesome, costly scouting process is a big mystery. Maybe they were too busy collecting Frequent Flyer miles to notice that Barry Sanders was on TV almost as often as Brent Musburger and Ollie North last fall, and even my 6-year-old boy could see right there on the tube that, yep, Barry Sanders can run up the middle, all right. (Here's another hint for scouts, just three letters long: V-C-R.)
In the case of the Oklahoma Sooners, who won't be appearing on TV anytime soon, scouts should simply consult the rap sheet at the local D.A.'s office or talk to one of the local sherriffs - "Yep, 98547622 is fast, all right. Me and the boys had to use a squad car to catch him. He's a legit 4.43."
In the meantime, while all this is going on, the prospective players are busy not going to class, lifting weights, hiring agents and accountants and attending scouting combines, which sounds like a piece of farm equipment but is really a place where prospects gather en masse to perform for NFL scouts - sort of like a huge dog-and-pony show.
The prospects at this time are understandably very anxious to know which teams will draft them. This is very important. For one thing, it's almost impossible to work on a suntan in Minneapolis, and you can forget endorsement opportunities in, say, Green Bay, where nobody cares if you wear Brut or, for that matter, pantyhose (unless it's to put you on the next outbound train).
The problem is, it's easier to extract information from a National Security Adviser in a Marine uniform who works for the President than to get the straight poop from an NFL scout, but there are ways a player can tell which team won't draft him. If, for instance, a certain team visits a certain player and requests his fingerprints, social security number, a mugshot and a birth certificate; if this same team hangs around this player's house all the time, and sends birthday cards to his mother and drives his girlfriend to work every morning; and if, say, this team takes this player to dinner and tucks him into bed every night.
It's not that team.
So take an NFL prospect to dinner. He's a nervous wreck this week. Better yet, take him to a dog-and-pony show.