It may come as a shock to most people who meet me, but I am a huge football fan. I have loved it since I was a kid, back when my father used to tell people that I would be the first left-handed quarterback at Notre Dame (despite the fact that I am right-handed). While I’ll watch college football, my biggest love has always been the National Football League. I follow the Dallas Cowboys religiously (even though I am from New York), both in season and during the off season. It is a love-hate relationship that the Cowboys and I have. One where the love occurs from August to November and the hate happens from December to whenever the Superbowl is scheduled for that year. However, I am too loyal to leave them, no matter how terrible they are. Besides just football, I really do enjoy sports, and the lack of them this year has put a true damper on my mood. I am grateful for anything that can connect me to the world of sports, including reruns of old games, which really isn’t doing it for me. That is why this year I set up shop to watch the first round of the NFL Draft live on Thursday night, April 23.
Usually, the draft is held in a large theater or arena with thousands of fans in attendance, and this year it was going to be held in Las Vegas. Obviously, the draft was different this year being virtual, with the commissioner, coaches and players working from their various living rooms. Now, do I camp out to watch three hours of the draft during a normal year? Not usually. I just follow the Cowboys’ picks online and tune in for a couple of minutes at the beginning of the program, at most. But, this year is no normal year. It seems that quite a few people agree with me because, according to CNN, the virtual draft drew in 15.6 million viewers on opening night. This is a record for the modern, televised draft and a 37 percent increase from last year.
Though this record breaking attendance to the draft is partly due to people trying to fill the void of sports, it is also about what the draft represents for everyone involved, from the coaches all the way down to the fans: hope and a new beginning. Even the way the draft is set up, the team with the worst record having the first pick, breeds optimism. Even though the Cincinnati Bengals went 2-17 games this year, they now have a quarterback, Joe Burrows, who won the Hesiman trophy and a national championship this year at Louisiana State University. This could change the team and give them a chance to be better next year. For me, I was praying for my Cowboys to get a new wide receiver, but they had the 17th overall pick in the first round, and wide receivers are usually a hot commodity. But somehow, they ended up with an amazing player from the University of Oklahoma, CeeDee Lamb. These moments of unexpected miracles make you believe in the power of sports at a time when you need it most.
Of course for the players, this is one of the most important moments of their lives. They wait for a phone call on draft night that will change the lives of them and their families forever. There was something a little magical about it this year because, instead of this happening in front of thousands of screaming fans, most players were just sitting in their living rooms with their families when they got picked. It was intimate and personal in a way that the usual draft isn’t, and that almost made it better.
Football has always been America’s game, a sport that brings together millions of fans across the country every year. This is when we need football the most, at a time when most people don’t even know if there will be an NFL season this year. The draft wasn’t about worrying what may or may not happen between now and the first game, it was about the wish for better days and games ahead, and most of all, hope.