NFL draft weekend is always my favorite weekend of the year, since it is one where Browns fans are full of hope.
You always love your players on draft day. Remember when we drafted "the next Reggie White" in 2000? Or "Warren Sapp with speed" in 2001? As Andy Dufrene said in the Shawshank Redemption: "Hope is a good thing... maybe the best of things... and no good thing ever dies."
That's why I love NFL Draft weekend. This year, for the first time, I actually have to fly to New York City for the draft. For many years, this was my event. I was the unofficial draft day host. This year I moved to Cleveland for a job so now I am a tourist in my old home town.
Airline fare structures make it so it's cheaper for me to fly Akron-to-Cincinnati-to-NY than to fly direct. Don't ask me why. (Note to self: never use priceline.com for what is normally a one hour flight.)
On the first leg of the trip I arrive in Cincinnati. I quickly realize the best thing about being in Cincinnati is that I am about to leave Cincinnati.
The Cincy airport is somewhat nice. There is a Brookstone store right next to my gate, which is selling luggage, high tech gadgets, and a massage chair. Who buys this stuff at an airport? Does anyone show up with all their travel clothes in a big pile thinking "Damn, I need something to put this in, let me see if there is a store at the airport."
Or a massage chair? "I'll take that chair. Will it fit in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of me?"
We then fly into NY and the flight pattern takes us over the city for a little "Aqib Nostalgia Tour". I fly over Ground Zero, which brings back a lot of memories and feelings best left to other columns. I go over my old college campus (sigh). Then we fly over Yankee stadium, and I wonder if I could ask the pilot to dump the plane's sewage tank right there.
My parents pick me up at the airport and go back to my old house. My old room is empty since all my stuff is now in Cleveland but strangely there is no plaque or any other commemoration that I once lived there, which I find highly disappointing.
Draft Day. I am up at 5:30 in the morning to make sure I get a seat. During the week, I can't get out of bed before 7 to get to work.
I get to the city and meet up with my friends around 7:45. Earlier in the week one of my coworkers asked me what the weather was going to be like and I said "well it rains every year on draft day so its probably going to rain". Sure enough, it's a downpour. Any day in NY when I am required to be outdoors the weather is assured to be horrible. For years, I would go to the Thanksgiving Day parade and we would be guaranteed that the temperature would dip 25 degrees for the day.
This year, the folks at Madison Square Garden decided to forsake all the structure they had regarding tickets to the draft. Instead, there are two messes of lines waiting for tickets.
I am standing with a group of Cowboy fans and a Lions fan and the trash-talking begins early. One of the Cowboy fans has had enough of the Lions fan and screams at the top of his lungs: "HAVE YOU GUYS WON A SUPER BOWL?!?! HAVE YOU EVER WON YOUR CONFERENCE?!?!" at this point everything the Lions fan says the Cowboy fan responds with "WIN!" This actually goes back and forth for a while. I think these two are about to come to blows and get themselves arrested for fighting on draft day. Good times!
There are fans of every team here. Expect for the Cardinals.
What's great about the crowd is that you see people wearing jerseys that go way back. I even saw a guy in a Chuck Long jersey. Chuck Long? I thought my Spielman jersey was old school. I saw four Lions fans in the concession line. I don't think I saw this many Lions fans in Michigan.
The crowd is about 99% men. Some guys talked girlfriends into going, likely in exchange for having to watch Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood or some other steep price.
Occasionally, it's possible to spot an attractive girl in a jersey and draft guides in hand. How does one handle this situation? "Hi my name is Aqib, will you marry me?" At this point I am seriously considering that New York's diamond district is only a few blocks away. I can go get a ring and be back in 30 minutes.
Some would call this jumping the gun, but when these chances present themselves you have to move fast. Good ones don't last very long. I never quite understood the song "hello I love you won't you tell me your name" Until now. Am I still talking? Back to the draft.
As we are waiting, we talk about last year's draft, particularly about the time the Vikings failed to get their pick up to the commissioner in time. We actually discuss the rules for when the clock runs out - if only we knew how this would come into play later.
Periodically, the ushers try to explain why the ticketing and seating is such mess, efforts which are greeted with a chants of "a**hole!!!"
Welcome back to NYC.
This insanity continues for another two hours until we are finally admitted around 11:30. We get seated and the trash talking continues with Giants fans. To which my friend responds "hey do you guys have a long snapper yet?"
The draft begins. The Bengals, to no one's surprise, take Carson Palmer. He comes out with his family and very hot fiancé. A $40 million contract, hot fiancé - but he has to live in Cincinnati. Somehow, the Good Lord always evens things out.
People start questioning why a guy with a $40 million contract is wearing a $5 hat. I think its because they don't make high-end Bengals gear.
High-end Bengals gear is like a hot-rod performance Kia, there is simply no demand for it. At the souvenir shop, I later find that this year's edition of the draft hat (they have a new draft hat each year that we all buy because we are sheep) is a mesh hat. Mesh hats were common in the early 80s and have seemingly made a comeback. Can acid washed jeans be far behind?
The first five picks go according to all the mocks, yet somehow take 40 minutes. The sixth pick is where it gets interesting. The Cardinals!
If you ever need to feel better about your team, look to the Cardinals. 50 years, 3 cities, 1 playoff win. The trade they make explains why. After looking at what the Jets gave to Chicago to move up to #4 the Cards should have done better here. One member of the crowd yelled "this is why they suck!" The Cards gave up a chance to get local product Terrell Suggs who might put fans in the otherwise empty stadium.
We looked around for Cardinal fans to mock, but there are none to be found.
At pick #7, the real comedy begins. The Vikings take a knee and run out the clock. The Jags run up and announce their pick, followed by the Panthers, allowing the Vikings pick to someone few in the crowd had heard of, then the Ravens get their pick up in about 30 seconds. The Seahawks, apparently not wanting to be the one to slow things down, get their pick up in about 40 seconds as well.
Under normal circumstances, this portion of the draft would have taken an hour. You know the Panthers would have waited 5 to 10 minutes to pick Jordan Gross if they could have, even though they new he was their guy. At this point we estimate the Browns will be up at 3PM instead of 4.
Thank you Vikings. While you're doing Browns fans a favor can you send us Bryant McKinnie?
The Eagles trade into the #15 pick pumping up all the Eagle fans around me who have been betting on every pick as it comes up. After the pick, the ESPN guys talks about all the free agents the Eagles lost. For some reason they don't mention Barry Gardner. I AM SHOCKED!
We were moving at a decent clip until the Cardinals return to make the day longer! Thanks to the trade, they are back-to-back at 16 and 17. Perhaps angry over the fact that they are never on TV, the Cards make up for it now. They take WR Bryant Johnson out of Penn State and DE Calvin Pace out of Wake Forest, both picks taken way too high. Considering no other wide receivers were going, the Cards could have had the same guy had they kept the original second round pick and gotten Suggs at #6 instead of taking the #98 guy from the Pro Football Weekly draft board with the 18th overall pick. Reports later came out that Pace was out shopping not expecting to be a first round pick.
Memo to Butch Davis: from now on, every year I want you to talk trade with the Cardinals. Just feel them out, who knows what you can get away with. But please make the call.
The Rats trade with the Pats and get the QB they wanted anyway. This is annoying on so many levels:
- How come the Rats have such a great front office? Doesn't their very existence anger the football gods?
- Is our front office the worst in the division right now?
- They made this deal with Belichick. When did Belichick become a draft day wiz? Ugh.
The Broncos are up, and the clock is ticking down. ESPN interviews Cardinals head coach Dave McGinnis, and the clocks stops on Denver. The pick is in (you don't see this on TV) and the clock has started on the Browns.... we still don't know who Denver's pick is and they are still talking to McGinnis trying to figure out why he is such an idiot. My head is about to explode.
DAMN YOU ESPN!!!! DAMN YOU TO HELL!!!! GET DAVE MCGINNIS OFF THE SCREEN!!!!
Denver picks George Foster. Considered a reach but I like this pick.
Browns are up and tension mounts. What will Butch do? The three top OL prospects: Jeff Faine, Eric Steinbach, and Kwame Harris, are still there, as are the top two LBs in the draft (E.J. Henderson and Boss Bailey). What will Davis do?! I am sold on Steinbach figuring OG and OT are need areas. My friend thinks its Faine.
So we take Jeff Faine and I scream "WHAT?!?!"
Not that Faine is bad but we just spent a pick on Melvin Fowler. I hope Fowler can move to guard, rendering him not a wasted pick.
ESPN talks about the pick and they sound as if like it. Then, it's off to Merrill Hoge and Ron Jaworski to talk about the QB situation.
They talk about doing well under pressure and show a clip of Couch vs. the
Steelers (when he doesn't do well) and then show a clip of Holcomb against the
Steelers (showing him make a play). I am angry about the discussion this is
framed. (People who know me know I am solidly a Couch guy.)
We stay until the Dallas pick in round 2, just to see if anything happens on the Jamel White front. What was rumored to be going to Dallas for a 3rd round pick, so when Steinbach and Bailey fell into the second round we figured maybe the Browns move up. Both went in the first two picks of round two. There's no deal, so we are off to ESPN Zone.
On the way we smoke Latin American cigars (name of country of origin is
classified), since we won't be allowed to smoke at ESPN Zone. NYC has a new
mayor who, despite New York's financial problems and everything else, finds
smoking in bars as an to be an issue of huge importance.
Picture this: You're the mayor of NY. You take office less than 4 months after 9-11, have huge budget deficits, your main industries (financial services, tourism, advertising, consulting, etc) are all struggling, your schools still suck, and unemployment is so bad people are moving to Cleveland (well, ok, maybe just me but still), and you're under constant security alerts. You go after people smoking in bars? Glad to see you have your priorities straight.
All I have to say is I am glad I moved to Cleveland.
It takes us forever to get a table since the waiting list is on the third floor and the restaurant is on the first floor. This makes to sense to me.
Our second round pick comes along and we look to see who the best WR on the board is. We take Chuan Thompson. Not a surprise. This was guy we read a lot about, but having to draft an LB, after taking so many last year, is a disappointment.
The only position where we haven't drafted guys over and over again is the offensive line. Think about this: Our first day picks since 1999 are 5 WRs, 3 DBs, 2LBs, 2DL, 3RBs, 2 OL, and a QB. Only 2 OL! This is what we term "malicious neglect".
Our pick is up and Dennis Weathersby is still there. My buddies talk about the risk taking him, but considering - other than Daylon McCutcheon - every third round pick we have had has been a waste (Fowler might not be if he moves to guard successfully) is this guy that much of a risk. Just as our pick was coming up all the TVs that were showing the draft switched to the Yankees game.
Let me make sure you understand this. AT ESPN ZONE, I CAN NOT WATCH ESPN. I am stuck with the freaking Yankees, and people wonder why I don't miss NY.
I told my father (another Yankee hater) about this, he uttered the prayer reserved for news of someone's passing and other great tragedies. The last pick of the day is Chris Crocker, which we found out by using the browsers on our cell phones. How annoying is that? I can't say anything about him since I have no idea who he is. Judging by recent years, pencil in a DB as out first round pick next year.
Day 2 and I am in front of the TV. I have yet to do both days of the draft. 4th round we pick Lee Suggs. Not a need area but you have to go best player available. Besides needs are hard to predict these days. Who thought LB would be a need last year.
5th Round a long snapper. Huh? Too confused for words. Second 5th round pick. A corner with speed. Hard to argue with that.
6th round.... our final pick. Some people think it will be Dorsey, aka Gino Torretta Jr. Seriously... go back to 1992, look at Gino Toretta, and tell me Dorsey is not the same guy. National champ as a junior loses title game as a senior. I am hoping for Shreko Haji-Rasouli out of Miami. A reach but he is an offensive lineman. Maybe Brett Romberg because you can never have too many good centers. We take a flier on a defensive end out of Boston College.
Who can really complain about 6th round picks? Browns fans do, but we complain about everything. I rate this draft a B. But who knows any more? We got A's in 2000.
In line at JFK, I talk to two guys who went to high school with Jeff Faine. They say he's a clean-cut guy, really strong, hard worker, loves the weight room. It makes me feel better.
Finally, I check into my flight, try to board, and find I was selected for a "Random Security Check".
I am Muslim, have an Arabic name and I am flying one way... please don't insult my intelligence. Just call it an Islamic Security Check and get it over with. I love the look on the security peoples face when they go through my bag and find the bar-be-que chicken my father made. High unintentional comedy.
For in-flight reading, I pick up Entertainment Weekly with the Dixie Chicks on the cover. They are trying to repair their image after some controversial comments regarding the President got them in hot water with the fans. They try to accomplish this by posing nude on the cover.
Is undressing the new way for women to apologize?
Say what you want about the Dixie Chicks, but if this becomes standard operating procedure for female apologies, all is forgiven.
In the interview itself, lead singer Natalie Maines said the reason that they posed nude was because they were trying to make a point and "clothes got in the way". That is an exact quote. I wonder if that logic will catch on. If a woman is trying to make a point, try saying: "I am attempting to see what you have to say, but quite frankly your clothes get in the way. Can you do something about that and see where it gets us" Am I still talking?
This time I have a two hour layover in Cincinnati. Something strange I discovered. Flights out of Cincinnati always have more people than flights to Cincinnati. Do you realize if this trend continues eventually no one will live there?
That concludes (in probably more detail than you ever wanted to know) my draft journey for 2003. Comments will flow regarding whether we did the right things over the next few weeks, but for better or worse our fate is tied to Butch. While at Miami, his recruiting classes always fell somewhere around 15 - but the team on the field was always top 5. Lets hope this continues!