Luckless

Some teams, and fans, probably shouldn't have nice things.
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Cardboard is for closers

Now, my ma, she fingers her wedding band
And watches the salesman stare at my old man's hands

Despite all available evidence, the NFL draft has actually gotten shorter. As recently as 1992, it had twelve rounds‡, and slowly dried up to the present seven rounds. But even though the NFL, and everything downwind of it, has swollen up with information-age hot digital air since the 1990s, the draft has actually gotten shorter—but it feels much, much longer. In fact, if your team sucks, as mine presently does, the draft feels like it never really ends, but simply commutes from solstice to solstice. There’s the time when the team loses ~10 games and earns itself a choice slot in April (a time to plant), and there’s the part where the team drafts Gerard Warren and his ilk (a time to reap what is planted).

In the age of the never-ending draft, there are some holidays and calendar highlights. One of my favorites is the algae of panic that blooms around shitty teams every spring. They have to do something about their gaping maw at such-and-such a position. Franchises will occasionally thud into a dead spot in a certain facet of the game, mushy spots of nothing that sometimes louse up a few seasons, sometimes a decade, or in the case of the Detroit Lions' QB trouble, last from the second Eisenhower administration until Matthew Stafford found fourth gear in 2011. The Steelers hit a patch of bad road on their offensive line over the past couple seasons, which they moved to address in this draft. Atlanta lacked receiving weapons for Matt Ryan, so they posted collateral for Julio Jones.

The Redskins were lost in a fog bank at QB and increasingly desperate, so they traded everything they had for next year's seed in Robert Griffin III. Of course, football-nerd augury indicates that Griffin will have to be the second coming of Tom Brady to justify the price paid. But there's hope at least in that; the Skins might have bought a tractor on credit, but at least they, you know, have a presumably new tractor to plow under the prairie sod and/or slowly drive off a cliff with. [Allergy notice: The remainder of this article was processed in a facility that contains Cleveland ethnocentrism. I encourage you to squint/try to put yourself in the shoes/wallet of your poorest cousin to relate/best appreciate to what follows.]

Seconds after the Redskins mortgage made it through the Osama Bin Laden Memorial Twitter-->Old-People Media Epistemologizer, I wrote off the future of the Browns and did the first of my approximately ten annual "I'm done with this redacted team" text-message micro-ASBOs. I relented and set about trawling for sad-bastard news about the Browns signing Matt Flynn; a few days after that, the Browns didn't sign Matt Flynn. I then calmly issued the second salvo of "I'm done with this redacted team" SMS howls. I could feel and say these things because I am ensconced in a weird envelope of emotional thermodynamics called "the world," where complete non-events like the Browns not signing Matt Flynn materially impact complete pseudo-events like my brief time on Earth.

Anyway, I got over it. By last Thursday, I was okay with the Browns again, not because anything changed but because I reminded myself that they have all the leverage in this situation; they are an NFL football team, I am not. Binge-reading feverish transactional speculation about what my team was going to do with its two first-round draft picks was most likely not going to, by creating a minor imbalance in the societal distribution of the four humors, affect the actual outcome of the draft. Newfound zen approach aside, I was pretty sure that we needed to take Justin Blackmon and Doug Martin, and that any other outcome was probably the wrong one. If we couldn't have the retail-therapy jouissance of Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, I wanted to stick with Colt McCoy, because he’s mediocre, and he absorbed a Costco-sized concussion last year in a vain effort to I don't know, win a football game or something. I still want the satisfaction of seeing him either plow a field, or slowly fall off a cliff, or in an ideal world, slowly do both things halfway.

***

This column was originally going to be a dirge in praise of successful college quarterbacks who never quite cut NFL mustard, a festschrift for Kellen Moore on the occasion of his attaining his seniority, a ritual incantation of names like Giovanni Carmazzi, Stoney Case, and Joe Germaine. I grew up watching Bernie Kosar, a star QB who combined the physique and mobility of Tom Waits with the vitality of a Volvo station wagon. Somehow this experience (I'm not blaming Bernie) gave me a taste for unathletic, soggy-armed signal callers. I also have powerful middle-class preferences for underpowered over- and non-achievers. I am a Matt Saracen fan.  My strong proclivity for just-barely-effective QBs is a fetish, and a weird one, and also an itch that the Browns have tried and failed to scratch spectacularly since returning to the NFL in 1999.

There's a fashionable irreligion in current sports, born of the fact that sports really aren't that kind of complicated (race does in fact usually go to the fast, etc), to turn everything into Moneyball, to torture the basic truths of competition into some kind of alchemical puzzle. Since there's always less than 32 messianic gunslinger NFL quarterbacks available, teams try to invent ways to win without them—Trent Dilfer was the stalking horse of this perception with the 2000 Ravens, although people do forget that Dilfer was a highly-touted draft pick in his day. It's just that the Ravens had the luxury of not needing or wanting him to do much of anything other than not throw pick-sixes. But yes, teams can win without superstar, or even above-average, quarterbacks.

***

The many skeletons and pre-existing ghosts that have taken snaps for the Browns since 1999 make it hard to  see that QB play isn't the end-all-be-all of NFL existence, nor does the salvific myth of the QB help. Eli Manning was a #1 overall. Peyton, same. Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick, but he was touched by the hobo messiah sports executive Bill Belichick and thus made holy. Colt McCoy was a third-round pick, but he had a pedigree as a four-year starter at Texas, where he won 45 games.

My third and fourth "redact this team" outbursts of 2012 game last Thursday night. I didn't watch the draft, because I am trying to get my human dignity rep up, but I did field messages on my two-way pager. The first one indicated, not entirely accurately, that the Browns had traded a whole bunch of draft picks to the Vikings to move up one slot, which isn't exactly what happened, but is so thoroughly plausible as a thing the Browns would do that I immediately took it to heart as a personal slight (remember, I am crazy). That was #3. #4 came an hour or so later, when the glowing screen that lives in my pocket told me that the Browns took Brandon Weeden with their second first-rounder. Weeden is so old that he was once traded with Jeff Weaver and Yhency Brazoban for Kevin Brown. I'm even older than Weeden, though, and we both have BAs as our terminal degrees, and he's much bigger and richer than me, so I don't have any problem with Brandon Weeden. I was mad for a while, but then I realized Weeden was something rare and special: He's too old to be a savior, and too young to mind.

‡ I cannot refrain from sharing some of the Pynchon names that were cried out from a podium in NYC in the duskward rounds of the '92 NFL draft: Freeman Baysinger, Chico Fraley, Milton Biggins, Klaus Wilmsmeyer, Pumpy Tudors, Ephesians Bartley, Sam Gash, Elnardo Webster, Mirko Jurkovic, Anthony Hamlet, Augustin Olobia, Roosevelt Nix, Lance Olberding, William Boatright.


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