NFL draft hardly a view to a thrill

ON MEDIA

April 28, 2006|By RAY FRAGER

This weekend marks ESPN's 27th time televising the NFL draft. So I don't care how well you argued for your high school debate team, the discussion about the logic and the wisdom of devoting so much air time to this exercise in pick-'em-up has been closed for a while.

More people probably know who Mel Kiper Jr. is than they do Kenneth Lay.

(I think Kiper has Lay going in the seventh round to the Arizona Cardinals.)

"If there's any event that typifies how far we've come as a company, it's the NFL draft," John Wildhack, ESPN senior vice president, said in a conference call this week.

Between ESPN (tomorrow, noon to 8; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and ESPN2 (tomorrow, 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.), the network is carrying 17 hours of people waiting for teams to pick players, guessing whom they'll pick and second-guessing whom they picked.

OK, I simplified it a little.

"There's so much that appears to be known, but is unknown ... so much intrigue," Wildhack said.

As Marvin Gaye sang, believe half of what you see and none of what you hear. ESPN's plugged-in NFL reporter, Chris Mortensen, surely agrees - though without quoting Motown.

"It's absolutely a minefield," he said. "I see NFL teams using all the [media] venues. I find myself suppressing some of the information. ... I'm dubious and leery of what some teams are trying to plant."

(Dubious and Leery? Didn't they record a couple of singles for Berry Gordy?)

ESPN won't have the draft telecast to itself this year. The NFL Network also is carrying the event. But Wildhack said that won't make things so different, even with the NFL Network crew set up just 75 feet away in Radio City Music Hall.

"There's always been competition with the draft ... in various media platforms over the years," he said.

(Media platforms? I think I had a pair of those in the 1970s - blue and white with four-inch stacked heels.)

With ESPN's 26 years of televising the draft, those in football have come to recognize it is the platform. Jay Rothman, ESPN senior coordinating producer, noted how Shawne Merriman, the Maryland product coming off an impressive rookie season at linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, approached the network to get a role in its telecast.

"We used to have to recruit hard to get players," Rothman said, "not now."

Nonstop picks

Here's the best change ESPN is making to its draft show: a constant crawl. The list of draft picks will scroll across the bottom of the screen not only during the network coverage, but also during commercials. Those who may not want to wait through Chris Berman's pearls of wisdom can check on the latest picks and turn back to Rachael Ray on the Food Network. ...

Berman again anchors the coverage, joined at the desk by Kiper, Mortensen, Tom Jackson and Michael Irvin. Steve Young checks in from San Francisco. At the network's Cold Pizza set elsewhere in New York, Sean Salisbury hosts a players' roundtable, with Merriman, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Trent Green, Green Bay Packers running back William Henderson and St. Louis Rams receiver Torry Holt.

Transactions

It's April, so, of course, we're still talking football. This week included the following moves:

Keith Jackson retired from ABC. Will a new generation come to know him only as the voice of Gatorade rather than the voice of college football? Those "Whoa, Nellie!" impressions aside, Jackson was a distinctive play-by-play man of the old school - never too talky, generous in setting up his partner, not acting as if he was a big deal. But he was.

The NFL Network hired Bryant Gumbel and Cris Collinsworth as its game announcers. Is it an issue that Gumbel hasn't done play-by-play in 30 years? His work as a studio host in sports and news all this time argues against those who would knock Gumbel before the first kickoff of the NFL Network's eight-game package. Neither Gumbel nor Collinsworth is shy about expressing opinions, so it bears watching the league's reaction to its own network's announcers.

Andrea Kremer left ESPN for NBC. Among her duties will be contributing to NBC's Sunday night NFL studio show. Is there a better all-around sports reporter on the air than Kremer?

Peter King joined NBC's NFL show. The Sports Illustrated writer has been a fixture on HBO's Inside the NFL. Another good move by NBC.

New host announced

WJFK (1300 AM) officially announced yesterday what has been known for a few weeks: Anita Marks, a sports talk show host from South Florida, will take over the 4 p.m.-7 p.m. slot, beginning May 22. Marks, a quarterback for women's pro football teams in the Miami area, has done sports talk in Florida since 2001.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

Read Ray Frager's blog at baltimoresun.com/mediumwell

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