Let us marvel in open-mouthed awe at this magic trick the NFL unveils annually, waving a wand over a hypnotized audience to much applause when all this league is really doing is just selling your hope right back to you. Well, that’s not fair, actually. That’s not all the NFL is doing. It is also conspiring as a monopoly with a corrupt NCAA cartel to create a free-labor minor league for its multibillion-dollar industry, plus signing up gladiators who are dying earlier and in more pain than the rest of us. But we lap this NFL Draft up every year like thirsty hounds at a bowl because you won’t find a lot of introspection at the biggest and best parties.
And, besides, recent months have felt good, healthy and hopeful for fans of the Miami Dolphins. This is nice. It is also ignores how many of the other losing NFL cities are feeling exactly the same thing right now, and feeling it in part because of players the Dolphins just discarded in their annual reshuffling. Kansas City and Philadelphia are fueled by new leadership, and St. Louis and Tampa Bay are fueled by new players, and this is just what is going on with the bad teams. Every year, football fans hope that good hope, and one day it’ll maybe/probably/please be rewarded, but for too long around here it has just been a disguise for delusion.
And that’s the magic trick, see? Not just the legislated parity that spreads out the possibility to all the teams across the United States but the utter unknowability of the draft … and free agency … and team-building … and football in general. By and large, we know the good and bad teams in basketball before a season starts. But we have no idea right now if the two-win Kansas City Chiefs, who added a coach and quarterback to a roster with six Pro Bowlers, are about to make that last-to-first jump the Dolphins once did in one year with Chad Pennington. And, even if we don’t know it, you can rest assured that the fans in Kansas City feel like they do.
Like coal shoveled into the firebox of a steam train, the NFL feeds hope into the hungry furnace of fans with the draft, and the most desperate among us will see it and feel it and invent it even if it is not there. It is the nature of believing. This doesn’t happen the same way to, say, the Sacramento Kings or Kansas City Royals or Florida Panthers before every season. But this is what makes us scream “Great pick! Great pick!” when the Dolphins acquire a draft pick whose name we did not even know minutes before. This unknowability disguised as hope is what helps make this America’s most popular sport (well, that and the violence and gambling and fantasy leagues), but it is odd compared to what is happening elsewhere in this, The Age Of Sports Enlightenment.
There is a quiet movement gathering strength across sports. The consumer is becoming smarter and more informed than he/she has ever been. We have more access to data, measurements and technology, and that creates a greed. As British author Laurence Sterne wrote, “The desire of knowledge, like the thirst for riches, increases ever with the acquisition of it.” So intelligence is growing, the more accurate calculations of the sports brain pushing aside the assumptions of our lying eyes and guessing guts.
In football, the announcers might gasbag about the greatness of names such as DeAngelo Hall and Charles Woodson. But, because every single pass is now tracked, anyone can use math and footballoutsiders.com to realize how bad those cornerbacks actually were in recent seasons, and how often other teams picked on them. There is value in having more information, and new Eagles coach Chip Kelly, a disciple of Nike University, is trying to apply that by having all of his players wear heart monitors during practice and preparing different shakes for each of their nutrient needs.