The NFL Draft has become an annual event that has grown exponentially in popularity. The reason? Unlike Las Vegas, everyone is a winner. Experts will tell you it takes three years to determine the outcome of a draft insofar as being able to tell how good the players are. While that may be true for what happens on the field, without a doubt, the diehards in the stands always come out on top. The draft gives fans a reason to believe. A losing season in the NFL is like a toxic relationship that abuses your heart week after week. Just when you have resolved to move on and find a new love, (The Military Channel never makes me feel this way...it gets me....) the draft rolls around to whisper sweet nothings in your ear and makes you forgive, forget and dream of white picket fences and Lombardi Championship trophies.
First and foremost, the draft sells hope. Just as Ponce De Leon scoured present day Florida for the mythic waters chronicled by Herodotus, (The real Fountain of Youth -- not the one tourists visit in St. Augustine that currently ranks ahead of the Alligator Farm as an attraction) each team immerses themselves in a ritualistic bath that is the talent pool of College football in the hopes of finding a restorative elixir -- basically a double digit sack artist, shut down corner, or rifle armed Quarterback. Cool last name optional.
Like any riveting soap opera, the NFL has all the critical ingredients -- there are good guys, villains, investigations, power, intrigue, love, hate, money and huge television ratings.
Of all the collegiate prospects hoping for an NFL career, it's fair to say that none has had the path that Brandon Crawford did. After a stint in the Marine Corps he went back to school and walked onto the Ball State football team at the age of 29. His journey has been chronicled here and here.
In a brutal sport where elite athletes are considered over the hill when they hit 30, Brandon is attempting the impossible. But no matter if he ever plays a down in the NFL, Crawford's story is an incredible achievement. How many of us can relate to following a path because life's circumstances dictated it to us. It is a journey that many are so familiar with -- we can even sing along with the soundtrack: an endless chorus of "if only" and "could have." Life dealt Brandon Crawford a challenging hand but instead of folding, he decided to turn around and punch life's circumstances in the face (undoubtedly to his D-line coach's delight). Too old? Why don't you ask Navy if he's too old (yep he blocked the kick to win the game)?
You may have guessed it -- I am a huge NFL fan. Fanatic? I wouldn't say that. Ok, I admit -- I did once submit an unsolicited design proposal for new uniforms for my beloved team and I don't really think I deserved to be spam blocked and added to the stadium watch list for it, but that's just me.
This is a story about following your heart so I am going to take the initiative, go rogue and break the "Third Wall" by lifting the curtain to reveal the team I root for. Before I do, know this -- this is not a story about my team, (Giants) it is a story about the NFL. So as you read this and my inbox is being lit aflame with angry taunts from Jets, Redskins, Cowboys and Eagles fans (I am always amazed at the level of creativity and intimacy with which Philly fans craft their insults) I ask you to please keep an open mind ... and yeah ... I hate your team too.
As the 2010 draft unfolded over three days in Radio City Music Hall a tense atmosphere took hold among Giant fans desperate for their team to draft a star linebacker. The lust was palatable, but alas, it was not quenched until the fourth round. The Internet exploded with activity, message boards cried for deliverance (surely some trade must be in the works to bring in a star veteran). Yet the hopes for the second coming of Sam Huff appear, for the time being, to lay with unproven veterans and a moderately touted rookie. As fans, we enjoy a luxury that team management does not -- we can vote with our hearts and we aren't held responsible for anything we say or think (other than buying beers when we lose a bet). So while some fans can sulk because they didn't get their shiny new toy -- the angry 6'3" 250 pound tackling machine -- the reality is no one ever knows how a draft will turn out and if they did, every pick would be a star as opposed to the 50% washout rate notched by top draft picks (according to Peter King). The surety of the NFL is that people will always be held accountable for performance. That leads to some cold, hard business decisions.
After the draft had concluded, something happened on Sunday that should give hope to people everywhere regardless of who they root for or whether or not they are even football fans. On Sunday, the Giants most meaningful transaction wasn't even a draft pick. They offered a tryout to soon-to-be 34 year-old Marine Corps veteran Brandon Crawford. That is the magic of sports -- it is more fair than real life. That is why blown calls by referees are so infuriating. We want competition to be equitable, we yearn for the contest to make sense in way that life so often does not. In sports, the impossible can happen, the underdog can win and dreams can come true. We watch to be inspired, to hope and to find a reason to believe. Before ever stepping on an NFL field, Brandon Crawford has done just that.