The Spaghetti Draft

Draft weekend and the days leading up to it seemed more like good ole fashion spaghetti western on TNT than a football event. It would have been more appropriate if Clint Eastwood opened the 2004 draft with a handle of a pistol than Paul Tagliabue with the ceremonial gavel. There was drama, excitement, and anticipation as both parties drew their lines in the sand and refused to budge. Imagine AJ Smith and the Manning's, unshaven with cigars, spitting on the ground as they get ready to draw.

Short of that pictorial, that is almost exactly what football fans turned their televisions on to Saturday morning.

Being an adamant Charger fan, I was also raised to love the red and blue of Ole Miss. In fact, I might be the only person on earth who pulls for both teams as hard as I do. To say I was shocked, upset, and disappointed over the events that transpired is an understatement. After all, I had some fantasy about my favorite college player pulling my Chargers from the depths of oblivion and bringing us back to respectability. And maybe, just maybe, he would help deliver us a championship, finally, and we would all ride off into the sunset. I am sure you are wondering where my loyalties in this matter lay. Being initially conflicted, I would say I feel as most Charger fans do over the matter.

There is no doubt this subject will be talked to death in the upcoming weeks. But being a fan of both organizations, I feel I need to get my two cents in as well. Those reading this might receive a unique perspective because of my loyalties to both programs. But for one Charger Rebel, I hope writing this will be both therapeutic and lead to some type of closure.

This "Spaghetti Draft" gave us elements of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Since I am an optimist, we shall shoot them down in reverse order and give this movie hope for a happy ending. But will the upcoming sequels end on such high notes as well? That, my movie patrons, is up to the Charger organization.

The ugliness in this draft was enough to make even ole Clint cringe. Sure, Charger fans took one extreme position, and the Manning fans took the other, but both parties had their name dragged through the mud. Editorials throughout the nation are still playing the finger pointing game, and the ESPN crew was certainly divided on the issue. In laying the majority of the blame, I still have to take the Charger side of the story. I feel playing in the NFL is a privilege, and for any college kid to come in and dictate his terms is not only a slap in the face to the Chargers, but to fans across the league as well. Any one owner, or fan for that matter, can potentially be in the very same position next year as the Charger faithful was this year.

Of course, those who stand behind the Manning's felt it was unethical for AJ to go public. Let me say, if AJ ever told Archie he would keep this quiet, or strongly suggested he would short of saying it, then the man broke his word and sacrificed his integrity. That is ugly no matter which way you slice it. But if Archie was relying on some unwritten code of football ethics, then he should have known his son violated that same code prior to when all this occurred. If that was the case, I feel Eli drew his pistol first, and AJ was shooting back to protect his interests and answer to his fan base.

Regardless, both the Manning's and AJ took a black eye. When these players first take the field, everyone will relive the story. And when the 2005 draft rolls around, the gurus will probably revisit the story once more. But beyond that, the accomplishments of Eli and the Charger organization will dictate the majority of the news printed on either from here on out. There is, however, an unanswered question that still remains. Every time a story is printed on the Chargers will the fans think to themselves, "That is the organization that tried to drag the Manning's name through the dirt"; or, if Archie is interviewed for his expertise will those watching think, "Oh, that is the guy who tried to dictate where his son was drafted." The answer to both, obviously, is unknown at this point in time. In this day and age, though, one's reputation tends to precede them.

Participants' aside, this "Spaghetti Draft" did give the Chargers a lot of bad publicity. The fact that the Chargers were being compared to the Saints of old, and Archie himself felt it was the wrong fit for his son, would make any fan feel disheartened towards his/her team. Agree with the Manning's or not, they are respected football people. And when any respected football person alludes to the fact they believe the Charger organization is not capable of winning, then that can only look bad on the organization as a whole.

In addition, even more bad blood could have been created between Eli's agent Tom Condon and the Spanos family. Condon represents the franchise of the Chargers in LaDainian Tomlinson. Who knows where this potential bad blood could further lead in future contract extensions with Tomlinson. This is all speculation of course, but there is a concern out there. Condon is one of the biggest agents in the NFL. Will this affect the pursuing of free agents whom he represents; or, will free agents that he does represent be more hesitant to come to the Chargers now? Again, no one knows for sure but there are legitimate reasons for concern.

But, despite the fiasco of the "Spaghetti Draft", the Chargers ultimately got what they wanted, which is good. The Charger organization is better off today than it was last week. I mentioned the public criticism towards the Spanos' ability to run their organization. With AJ going public, he was able to send his boss a well needed message. Over the past few years the Chargers have had one of the worst administrations in football. It is impossible to tell if this was a calculated move by AJ or not, for he obviously would never admit it if it were, but things were shaken up in the Charger hierarchy and thankfully so. Now, maybe with all the national scrutiny, the Spanos' will use this as a motivation to make better football decisions and prove the rest of the league wrong.

In addition, the Chargers are now working with something they have not had in a long time, a united fan base. Many have speculated this is why AJ went public in the first place. AJ was able to shift the heat from himself to the Manning's. In the process, he got most of the Charger faithful on his side, not because he was a rallying figure per say, but because no one likes to told by anyone that they are not as good as them. Charger fans now have more of a vested interest in the success of their franchise. It is no longer a matter of just pulling for a team, but now it is a matter of taking pride in their performance. And finally, let us look at the draft itself. On paper, the Chargers did get the better end of the deal. The Chargers still got a franchise quarterback; an extra third round pick in an extremely deep draft; and a realistically high first round pick for next year. This deal was easily better than one three years ago with Atlanta. Consequently, the Chargers were able to save face in terms of getting value for the number one pick.

The sequel of the "Spaghetti Draft" will be premiering nation wide come Labor Day. Will it be as good as the original? Since the story is one of an evolving nature it is hard to tell. The Charger fans are not expecting Oscar material for the next installment, and the sequel could very well add or subtract to the greatness of the first. All we want is the next step in what turns out to be a long, running, successful epic that appears on a better venue than some spaghetti western on TNT.

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