Serious about NFL draft? ESPN's Kiper is...


Serious about NFL draft? ESPN's Kiper is your man

Don't go messing with day . . . or hair

In "Saturday Night Fever," John Travolta sits down to a family meal after carefully preening in his room. An argument ensues, and Travolta's dad gives him a potch -- or what would've been a potch (Yiddish for smack) if the family had been Jewish instead of Italian -- on the head.

"Don't touch duh hair," Travolta protests.

It's in that spirit that we approach today's topic: ESPN's NFL draft show (Sunday, noon-6:30 p.m.), featuring Baltimore's own Mel Kiper Jr., The Draft Expert.

Let's talk strictly football.

Mel, what's with the hair?

"It's my hair, and I have nothing negative to say about it," Kiper said this week.

Hair jokes aside, Kiper will be working his 10th draft show for ESPN on Sunday. The host is Chris Berman, joined by analyst Joe "What'd I Say" Theismann and a new addition, former Buffalo Bills general manager Bill Polian.

But Kiper is the man most closely associated with the draft. He's the guy publishing the voluminous report. He's the guy summoned to talk shows when the subject is pro prospects. He's the guy who's a fixture at the all-star games. He's the guy who put the bop in the bop shoo bop.

But he isn't the guy who was nervous when, before the owners and players settled on a labor deal, talk turned to the possibility of eliminating the draft.

"My position has always been that, as long as there are college players, there'll be a report," Kiper said. "One way or another, these players are going to go to the NFL."

Kiper isn't shy about saying where these players will go in the draft. Maybe even when he should be.

Take, for example, what Kiper told the San Francisco Chronicle about Washington State quarterback Drew Bledsoe: "Bledsoe is No. 1. . . . I've never been this sure about a No. 1 pick this early in the year. He's a lock for the No. 1 pick. . . ."

And then the kicker: "If he doesn't come out [this year], he'll be crazy."

Kiper was quoted saying these things in early October. Bledsoe still had most of his season ahead of him. He could have had another full college football season ahead of him, but Bledsoe isn't crazy.

In fact, crazy isn't a word you would apply to Kiper's draft-day performance. Serious is a better word. Make that deadly serious. Berman will insert his puns, but the NFL draft is no laughing matter for Kiper. You've seen more jovial types covering train wrecks.

Last year, before he became an unemployed pro football executive, Polian was quoted in the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times as saying: "I agree it's fun to handicap the draft, but it isn't life and death."

Get with the program, Bill. You'll never get to be a Draft Expert with that kind of talk.

We told you it's serious

ESPN plans to have War-Room Cams with four teams -- the Cowboys, Buccaneers, Vikings and Cardinals -- on draft day. The War Room, for those of you still not taking this seriously enough, is where NFL team officials gather to plot draft strategy and possibly an invasion of Cuba. ESPN has had a camera with the Cowboys on draft day for the past four years.

Viewers don't get a sneak look at any lists or hear behind-the-scenes planning ("Hey, you want pepperoni on that?"), but the cameras can provide reaction shots when a club steals Sal Studly from Earl Schieb A&M; on the second round.

And no Peter Puck, either

Hockey opened a five-week run on network television Sunday, but not in Baltimore.

ABC covered the opening game of the Pittsburgh Penguins-New Jersey Devils playoff series, but network affiliate Channel 13 decided against carrying the game. WJZ instead showed an infomercial, a "reality-based" rescue show and a movie, "Sounder, Part 2."

This week, look for "Kentucky Woman" (starring Neil Diamond?) instead of pucks.

"Our decision to do this was based on the level of interest," Channel 13 programming director Michael Easterling said. "This

is one of the few times WJZ will pre-empt live sports."

Channel 13 also was one of the few ABC affiliates not to carry hockey. The network said 92 percent of its stations broadcast the game.

NHL fans have expressed their displeasure with the station's decision, but apparently not in great enough numbers to get WJZ to switch. Easterling said about 100 phone calls to the station protested the lack of hockey. That's approximately half as many as Channel 13 heard from in 1988 when the station pre-empted pro bowling, Easterling said, a response that has prompted WJZ not to bypass bowling again.

Sunday's ratings for nearby cities don't present a compelling argument either, Easterling said. In Washington, the NHL game drew a 1.3 rating, in Philadelphia a 2.5. Nationally, ABC's coverage received a 2.0.

Channel 13's movie, meanwhile, got a 5.7 rating and 15 share, making it Baltimore's highest-rated program on Sunday afternoon, Easterling said.

This doesn't mean that hockey definitely won't appear on Channel 13 in the next month. Easterling said: "We left it open [to carrying some games]."

The opinion from this faceoff circle is that the NHL deserves t be on. Channel 13 used to carry the World League of American Football, telecasts distinguished by teams with lime green uniforms, stadiums with empty seats and ratings that couldn't match late-night infomercials featuring the annoying fellow setting fire to a car's hood.

Hockey deserves better treatment than the WLAF. At least the NHL is still around.

Now a word from our sponsor

Ratings measure the percentage of all television households watching a program. Shares measure the percentage among homes where television is in use. Those two sentences were starting to gather dust.

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