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Are you ready for some football?

The NFL draft starts Thursday. Oh, heart be still!  I have to admit, I'm ready for some football.


I've tried to get my fill of football by watching reruns of classic games, like the Texas--Arkansas game-of-the-century in 1969.  Spoiler alert:  Texas wins. And that's the problem. I know the outcome--kind of takes away some of the thrill of the game.

So I've tried reruns of other sports that are not as familiar to me.


I've observed darts in British pubs.  I've never seem anyone actually hit the small, red center, and don't understand the scoring system. But I do like this sport. Apparently, one plays the game with a dart in one hand and a pint of beer in the other.  My kind of competition.


Then, in the middle of the night, I caught a game of Australian Rules Football--thinking this might be like American football.  It's not.  It seems to me that this is the only throwing-catching-kicking-crashing-colliding-bodies-everywhere game that is played without any rules at all.  If there are rules to this on-field chaos, I could not decipher them.

I did find on one cable channel a unique new sport--video gaming. This can be played while still social isolating, which makes it perfect during the pandemic. There are all kinds of cartoon-like icons, characters, explosions, and levels of progress, that, I have to admit, make it difficult to figure out who is winning and who is losing. But it's colorful.  The stars go by names like FlyQuest, WildTurtle, and my favorite, PowerofEvil.  No kidding.  Those are the real names of the players. They'll be on Wheaties cereal boxes soon.

So, I'm ready for some football. 

I am now on Mock Draft 94.0. I've seen a pattern to all the predictions of who will go where. For the first 30 or so Mock Drafts, experts worked hard to match the exactly right player to the exactly right team, rigorously taking into consideration each team's  needs and every player's  talents. 


From Mock Draft 30 to about 60, sports fortune-tellers started to widen the base of draft candidates by wondering which hockey stars, basketball players and rugby players might just be the perfect fit for a specific team. Some experts showed the ability to really think outside the box as they suggested Sumo wrestlers to fortify the offensive line, New Zealand Maori warriors to terrify quarterbacks with their chants and chest banging, and even ballet dancers who can leap something like 20 feet in the air as pass catchers.  


After Mock Draft 60, other talents came under assessment for many experts.  Some thought to focus on the Wonderlic test, which is given at the football combine, to evaluate math, vocabulary and reasoning skills.  Apparently, some teams are now looking at Jeopardy Champs and arguing whether Ken Jennings or James Holzhauer would be a better pick.


In any case, I figure that when Mock Drafts get over 100, I may even have a chance to be drafted.  I've always thought I could be a fleet-footed wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns.  There is a challenge to this expectation, however. I'm short but I'm slow.  Hope springs eternal.


You see, I grew up in Cleveland during the glory days of the Cleveland Browns.  They won the championship in 1964 by upsetting the Baltimore Colts 27-0. Each year since, I have predicted that the Browns would win the Super Bowl.  I'm predicting it again this year (it could happen!). I left Cleveland when I was 18 to go to school in Texas and pursue opportunity. But I took with me a totally irrational dedication to the Browns.

This is how memory affects reason.

When I was boy, the Browns were the heart and soul of the city.  Every fall, my brother, Johnny, as he was known then, and I would play football in the street on Hird Avenue on the far west side of Cleveland or in the empty, asphalt-paved parking lot that abutted the rental unit in which we lived. Every kid knew every player on the Brown's roster.  Given our position in a particular game, we would imagine being Gene Hickerson, who gave wonder to the term "pulling guard," or Paul Warfield who made circus catches look routine, or Frank Ryan who threw perfect spirals to the unstoppable Gary Collins, or Lou "The Toe" Groza who kicked field goals that invariably split the goal posts.  

And of course, we dreamed of being like the GOAT, Jimmy Brown.  We kids always referred to him as "Jimmy" since it seemed to make him a bit closer to all of us.  In any case, we pretended to run like Jimmy--pumping our legs like pistons in a V-8 engine busting through the defensive line, or taking a pitch around the end and then refusing to run out of bounds and instead turning back into the field of play or tip-toeing like a tight-rope walker along the out-of-bounds line to get that extra 1, 2 or 3 yards, or dashing past the last defender on the way to the end zone with opposing players frustratingly watching our back with the number 32 on it. That's what it was like being a boy in Cleveland in football season.


Occasionally, my Dad would take my brother and me to see the great players in person. He had a friend on the assembly line at the Ford Engine plant on Brookpark Road where he worked. His friend sometimes worked a second job as a gate-keeper and ticket-taker at the old Memorial Stadium where the Browns played their games on Sunday afternoons. On some of those days, Dad would announce that we were going to the game. We would ask how he got tickets.  He would point out that he did not need tickets because there was a special back door that he had access to through his friend.  Johnny and I always thought how lucky we were that Dad has access to such a special door.


So for the draft this week, I have gotten prepared.  The Browns have 8 picks over 255 selections during the 7 rounds: 10, 41, 74, 97, 115, 187 and 244. I am as excited about the 244th pick as I am about the 10th.  And who knows, there may be some trades and surprises. Almost hard to sleep at night!

I have told my wife, Judy, that I am going into football hibernation in my study on Thursday.  I may not come out of my man cave until Saturday night. I have advised her that she likely will not see me but may hear me, as I respond to good selections with a cheer or bemoan terrible selections by shouting, "What are they thinking!" 

In any case, come Thursday at 9:00 am Central time, I'll be ready for some football.  I have planned my menu around the key food groups: pizza, guacamole and chips, wings, and of course brownies. I have my picks identified. And I will have my cell phone right next to me just in case Andrew Berry, the Browns general manager, calls me about a wide receiver position. It could happen!


Good Health and Good Luck

Ray

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