Why the NFL draft show scores high points for style


"The sports page records people's accomplishments," former Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl "The Pearl" Warren once said, "the front page nothing but man's failure."

I can well understand how the beleaguered reader turns to his sports section seeking solace from the travails of everyday life. Or at least seeking sentences that don't juxtapose the words solace and travails.

In any case, sports journalists believe we also can provide substance. Let pundits ponder peripheral piffle pertaining to potential presidents. (And let them match that alliteration. In your face, David Broder.) No, we in sports deal with issues.

So let's talk hair. Specifically, Mel Kiper's.

Sunday is the NFL draft, carried live on ESPN. Kiper, Baltimorean and self-made draft expert, is a large part of that coverage.

In years past, Kiper's hair has loomed over the draft telecast like smoke billowing from Mount Etna. His sweeping pompadour -- which bench-pressed 350 pounds 25 times, the best effort in a combine since Little Richard's 'do set the record of 400 in 1958 -- was the trademark of ESPN's broadcast, its eye, its peacock, its raison d'etre, its first, its last, its everything.

And Kiper's hair was perfect for its time. The 1980s were a period of excess. Michael Milken, Gordon Gekko, Kiper's hair -- it all fit.

But Kiper's hair has changed with the times. It's slimmed down, sleeker, but still full of sinew. It ran a 4.3 40 in Indianapolis, surprising the scouts. Though impressed by that speed, some wonder whether the hair still can handle a big hit of mousse through the middle. Look for the Phoenix Cardinals to take the coiffure in the third round.

I know, we shouldn't kid about the NFL draft. Kiper certainly doesn't. After all, the draft is his livelihood. Asked how much time off his year-round devotion to rating football players leaves him, Kiper said that he can relax some in June.

There are articles to write, radio and television shows to appear on, camps and games to attend, game telecasts to capture via a satellite dish, draft reports to prepare for thousands of subscribers . . . and what about that punter at Upsala?

"Basically, what I try to do is operate as an independent, 29th team," Kiper said Wednesday.

See, Baltimore already has an NFL franchise.

If you ask Kiper about sleepers in the draft, he'll say: "There really is no such thing anymore." And part of the reason for the demise of the sleeper is Kiper. You want small-college players who'll go high in the draft? He can rattle off about 34 before pausing for breath.

The explosion of interest in the draft might be befuddling to some -- you can set my alarm for a week before -- but ESPN's telecasts, now in their 13th year, are a large part of the reason there is a bit of the draftnik in so many fans.

"There's a lot of people who feel that the intrigue of sports is the debate," Kiper said. "This is the only sport where you get an immediate impact from the draft."

(Whoa, get a T-O, bay-bee!!!!! "The only sport"? Tell that to the NBA teams who hope to cash their lottery tickets for Shaquille O'Neal.)

"I've had people who told me they get more enjoyment out of watching the draft than watching the games on Sunday," Kiper said.

Who are those people? Football versions of what Sun columnist John Eisenberg would call Roto-geeks? Wait a minute, as the blues song goes, before you accuse me, take a look at yourself. What's the difference between draft watching and baseball's hot stove league? Favoring shots of those helmet-shaped phones over a Barry Sanders touchdown run is a little extreme, but let he who is without a mock draft cast the first stone.


Be kind, rewind: CBS has lost the Mobil Cotton Bowl to NBC, but re-signed the Blockbuster Bowl to a three-year deal with plans to move it to New Year's Day. . . . Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser will have a weekday show, 10 a.m.-noon, on WTEM (570 AM), the D.C. all-sports station debuting soon.


Sacre bleu cheese: The boss summoned me. He was wearing a serious look (and a lovely tie, too). "Roy," he said -- he always pretends he doesn't know my name; what a kidder -- "I'm concerned about your column. It's getting so self-indulgent. You're even using French words to try appearing sophisticated."

"Moi?" I said.

"From now on, let's play it straight, OK?" the boss said.

"But that would mean dropping your questions at the end," I said.

The boss paused. "Well," he said, "let's not be too hasty."

Things My Boss Wants To Know: Now that ESPN has documented a chance meeting of Pat Buchanan and Don King, is the end of the world at hand? . . . If NBC's Olympic promos proclaim "we are one," why must you buy three pay-per-view channels to see more of the Summer Games? . . . Should we be looking for a blue-light special hole during this weekend's Kmart Greater Greensboro Open?

Draft on ESPN

Some of ESPN's coverage plans for the NFL draft (Sunday, 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m.):

* Chris Berman, Fred Edelstein, Chris Fowler, Mike Gottfried, Tom Jackson, Mel Kiper, Joe Theismann at draft headquarters in New York.

* Gary Danielson with the Atlanta Falcons.

* Craig James with agent Leigh Steinberg and possible first-round picks David Klingler and Tommy Maddox.

* Andrea Kremer with Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard.

* Chris Mortensen with the Indianapolis Colts.

* Chris Myers with the Dallas Cowboys.

* Mike Patrick with the Washington Redskins.

* Remote camera with Outland Trophy winner Steve Emtman.

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