We went 43 days without sports.

Last Thursday night sports began again. Well, sort of.

The NFL held their draft. Well, sort of.

The league spent three days in the spotlight, with teams attempting to improve their rosters. They do it every year. You know this. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the NFL was forced to hold their yearly draft virtually this year.

It was glorious, especially since it gave us the first bit of normality in six weeks. Want proof?

The first round of the draft averaged 15.6 million viewers, up 37% from last year. Friday’s second round averaged 8.2 million viewers, up 40% from last year. For the three days the NFL Draft attracted over 55 million viewers, shattering the previous record. Anyone still think sports aren’t a big deal?

The draft was a rousing success, and we have Commissioner Roger Goodell to thank for it. *ducks for cover* Goodell was far from perfect. The corny level in his “basement” was quite high and got a bit unnerving by round 7. He misspoke Friday(too much off air scotch?) when announcing Las Vegas would still get to host the Draft in 2022. He nearly dozed off on a few occasions. However, this stunning success has his name written all over it.

Goodell often comes across as arrogant, but maybe that arrogance paid off this time. He stood firm in the face of much backlash for having a draft in the midst of a pandemic. He also made sure everyone had the means to handle this draft virtually. Additionally, he tamped down any notion there would be problems either with technology or security. A final positive, at Goodell’s directive I assume, was the wonderful acknowledgement of the health care workers throughout the draft.

All of those things didn’t prevent the “Twitterverse” from breaking out the negativity. We waited 43 days for some type of sport, yet many complained about how long the opening was, or how terrible Harry Connick was, or why it took the full fifteen minutes to announce the Bengals pick. Look, after 43 days was another 15-20 minutes that horrible? Maybe the quarantine just had people testy.

ESPN/NFL Network’s coverage was mostly on point. Trey Wingo was an excellent host, setting just the right tone. He managed the draft analysts pretty well, and that was no easy feat considering the large number he was dealing with. One negative that stood out, and Twitter was quick to jump on it, was the constant stream of negative backstories on every draft pick.

I also don’t need to see highlights of the draft pick’s mother, father, brother, sister, or high school English teacher. Just show me the player’s highlights.

Otherwise the event was spot on, including the cool sneak peeks inside coach’s and GM’s homes. Jerry Jones nudged Kliff Kingsbury in the “don’t you wish you had as much money as me” competition.

Jerry Jones’ $250 million yacht.
Kliff Kingsbury’s $4.5 million mansion.

Joe Burrow and Chase Young went 1-2 as expected, and there weren’t really many surprises early in the draft. Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert went to the Dolphins and Chargers at 5 and 6, then the run on receivers started at number 12 with the Raiders taking Henry Ruggs. The big shocker of round one came when the Green Bay Packers selected quarterback Jordan Love with pick 26. The only bad part was not having a camera in Aaron Rodgers home to capture his reaction. If it is possible to make Aaron Rodgers less warm and fuzzy this may have done it.

Eagles Draft

The only surprise with the Eagles first round pick was the name on the card. Everyone who saw the Eagles offense last season knew they would draft a wide receiver. Jalen Reagor was a curious choice, considering Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk, Tee Higgins, and others were still on the board. Reagor is a speedster, but a guy who had a down senior season at TCU. Two more receivers were selected later in the draft, and both run a 4.3 40 yard dash. John Hightower from Boise State and Quez Watkins from Southern Mississippi will join Reagor and trade acquisition Marquise Goodwin formerly of the 49ers to make for a track team version of Philadelphia wide outs.

Most of the other Eagles picks filled needs, but almost all of the players selected are projects. One of the biggest shocks of the entire draft was the Eagles choosing quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round. Considering Carson Wentz was just signed to a four year extension, this pick was curious to say the least. Head coach Doug Pederson is known for his creativity and maybe will be able to use Hurts in some interesting ways. Otherwise this will simply give fans already critical of Wentz more ammunition.

All in all, it wasn’t a banner draft for an Eagles team looking to soar past the Cowboys next season.

Steelers Draft

The Steelers traded their first round pick to acquire Minkah Fitzpatrick from the Dolphins early last season. For the record, Fitzpatrick is better than anyone the Steelers would have drafted. Consequently, the Steelers had to wait until the second round to make a selection.

In last week’s column I detailed four players I wanted the Steelers to target. The Kansas City Chiefs took Clyde Edwards-Helaire at the end of round one, then the Indianapolis Colts swiped Michael Pittman and Jonathan Taylor early in the second round. That left just one of my four available in Chase Claypool. The Steelers obliged and made Claypool their pick at number 49. Claypool is tight end big, and will also become the fastest receiver on the team. At the very least he will give Ben Roethlisberger another red zone target.

Hopefully Claypool works out, because many wanted the Steelers to take running back JK Dobbins from Ohio State who, to make those fans even more irate, went to the rival Ravens.

The next pick for the Steelers was an underrated excellent pick. Alex Highsmith, a linebacker from Charolette, will fit as an edge rusher in the 3-4 Steelers defense. He has a high ceiling and keeps getting better year after year. He had a great game against Clemson, proving he can play against high caliber talent.

The rest of the Steelers limited draft featured two Maryland players, a lifelong Steeler fan, and a possible nose tackle replacement for Javon Hargrave.

Carlos Davis, a 313 pound defensive tackle from Nebraska, has obvious size and upside. That’s about all you can ask from a seventh round pick. In the sixth round the Steelers selected Antoine Brooks, a hybrid safety from Maryland. Brooks does not excite me much, as he is not considered a ball hawking defender. The Steelers do desperately need depth at the position, so maybe he sticks. The two fourth round picks are both interesting. Kevin Dotson out of Louisiana was an AP All-American offensive lineman, but he was not invited to the combine. He’s a lifelong Steelers fan with a reported nasty disposition on the field. Again, the offensive line needs depth and this guy may be able to do enough to provide help.

The most intriguing pick the Steelers made was fourth rounder Anthony McFarland, a speedy running back from Maryland. McFarland brings 4.3 40 yard dash speed to a backfield that has no speed. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, which could make the very limited Jaylen Samuels expendable. That would be a nice upgrade. The problem is McFarland comes with baggage. It was rumored that he was told by Maryland coaches to declare for the draft because he wouldn’t be welcomed back. If anyone is equipped to deal with an attitude problem it is Mike Tomlin, who dealt with the ultimate malcontent—yes AB, I’m talking about you.

The draft is a crapshoot for every team. There are no guarantees, just some that are closer to being guarantees than others. The Steelers didn’t have many picks this year, and some are forgetting about Minkah Fitzpatrick. Essentially, he is the Steelers’ number one pick. Nevertheless, some in the Pittsburgh media have been unrepentant in their criticism of the local team’s draft.

Why a receiver? Why not JK Dobbins? Why draft a malcontent? Why did they wait so long to pick a safety? Why choose Maryland players?

And that’s just the first page of complaints. Wow.

Generally the Steelers hit far more than they miss when it comes to the draft. Judging by the results of his play, trading the number one pick for Fitzpatrick was a huge win. At his best, Chase Claypool becomes a great downfield threat plus insurance if the team doesn’t re-sign JuJu Smith-Schuster. At worst he provides another big red zone target. The Steelers are pretty good at picking wide receivers. Highsmith gives them an eventual replacement with big upside for Bud Dupree after this season. From the fourth round on down, every team is throwing darts. The Steelers got three guys with upside, including a running back with high end speed.

With all of that said, I don’t think you can say the Steelers had a poor draft. They already know their first round pick is an All-Pro. From there it is wait and see, but I like some of these draftees’ chances to contribute.

The biggest problem with the Steelers’ draft that most are frantic about isn’t their fault. The other three teams in the AFC North had great drafts, in particular the arch rival Baltimore Ravens. From the time Ozzy Newsome took over the draft in Baltimore, they have been great on draft day. Newsome is gone, but the tradition continues.

The fact that the Ravens, and to a lesser extent the Browns and Bengals, had good drafts isn’t on Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert. I know there is a lot of angst about an 8-8 Steelers team catching a 14-2 Ravens team. Hopefully a healthy Ben Roethlisberger—keep all fingers and toes crossed—will help the cause greatly. As for the draft, Tomlin and Colbert can only take care of their own business. I think they did that fairly well.

Only time will tell if business is boomin’.

Two Cent Takes

NHL/NBA

~Both leagues are still planning to finish their respective suspended seasons. The NHL is milling over a four city return where they would play three games per day in each arena. The NBA is opening team facilities on Friday in areas that are safe. Both leagues may end up conducting drafts for next year before the current season is over. Weird times.

College Basketball

~More players continue to declare for the NBA Draft. This just emphasizes the point I made in last week’s column. Incentivize college all you want, but a lot of guys have no desire to sit in classes.

~Danny Manning was “relieved of his duty” as head coach at Wake Forest. Manning seems like a good dude, but he just wasn’t getting it done on the sideline. His buyout will affect how much Wake is willing to spend on the next coach. Patrick Chambers was mentioned a month ago by PennLive writer David Jones. With the virus fallout, look for Chambers to back off looking for a raise, smile, and keep working in Happy Valley. Likely, Wake Forest will sift through small conference coaching resumes for their next head coach.

MLB

~Baseball’s discussions for a start to the season in some fashion have stalled. Why? The billionaires are arguing with the millionaires over how much money each side should get if they play games without fans. They are doing this all while a virus is killing thousands, businesses are closing for good, and tons of common folks are on the bread line. Baseball does this time and time again. Boy, does this sport need fixed.

Quarantine Boredom Remedies 

~Old school video game time. This will be the final edition in this segment, so I’m going out with a bang. Last week I gave you some really oldies, Combat and Chopper Command. This week I give you two of the greatest games ever. The first is handheld and in honor of Louis Riddick, who had one in the background at the NFL Draft. The second is the game I raced for when going to the arcade.

 

~While watching ESPN’s Super Bowl highlights from years gone by, I picked up on something that I had forgotten about the Steelers dynasty of the ‘70’s. The kicking game was a travesty. Blocked punts, missed field goals, dropped snaps—it was ugly. As a kid I always liked Roy Gerela, showing kids aren’t great talent evaluators. Bobby Walden was just as bad. Some how Gerela made two Pro Bowls and Walden one. Eh, the single bar face masks were pretty cool at least.

A Penny For My Final Thought…

Speaking of face masks, I’m going to veer from sports for this Final Thought.

What is the big deal about wearing a mask?

One of the safety measures that was put in place here in Pennsylvania, and many other states, is the requirement of citizens to wear a mask when going to a public locale. A mask. Not a suit of armor. Not a Hazmat suit. Not even a football helmet.

It’s just a mask.

So, if you go to the grocery store, doctor’s office, or one of the other “essential” spots that are open for business you must wear a mask. Employees also have to wear masks. It really isn’t a big deal. Is it?

Apparently to many people in my community it is, indeed, a big deal. The governor has been given so many new names he could use one each day for the rest of his life and not get through them all. Some have stated they can’t do this in a democracy, it is socialism, it is communism, we are living in a police state.

It’s just a mask.

Some are arguing that people have medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask. If that is the case, then I’m pretty sure they shouldn’t being going out in public right now.

Because they are asking you to wear a mask in public during a pandemic doesn’t mean they are taking your guns, or taking your speech, or taking your religion. This isn’t the beginning of some coup to take all of your rights. Simply, they think this is a necessary precaution to keep people safe. It won’t last forever.

It’s just a mask.

It’s obvious, as a country, we weren’t prepared for this pandemic. I no longer try to make sense of it all. One story says it isn’t as bad as they say. The next says it’s worse than they say. Some say open things up now. Some say wait. It all makes my head spin faster than Linda Blair’s did in The Exorcist.

Here is what I do know. If this is the worst thing you have to do, then you should be thankful.

It’s just a mask.

I think it is safe to say we all want to get things back to normal sooner rather than later. If shopping is your thing, is wearing a mask to do so that big of a deal? You are itching to go to a ballgame, but you have to wear a mask. Are you really not going? Is wearing a mask at work that bad if it means earning a living to take care of your family and paying your bills?

Is wearing a mask in public FOR NOW really that horrific? People in my community are acting like the governor is asking them to cut off their right arm. Time to get a grip and do just a small thing to help out.

It’s just a mask.

Wearing a mask is inconvenient. Wearing a mask is a pain in the butt. Wearing a mask is something we all wish we didn’t have to do.

Life is all about inconveniences.

I feel the same way about paying taxes, cleaning my toilet, wearing a tie, and hearing the Notre Dame fight song.

It’s just a mask.

Just my two cents…