Magazine article The New Yorker

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Magazine article The New Yorker

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Article excerpt

When ESPN asked the National Football League, in 1980, if the network could broadcast its annual player draft, the league said, "Sure, but why would anyone want to watch it?" Back then, the event was held on a Tuesday morning, in a hotel. The draft is now a prime-time affair, with a red carpet outside Radio City Music Hall, and its own marquee celebrity, Mel Kiper, Jr. "Mel, can I please have your autograph?" a grown man wearing a Tennessee Titans jersey asked Kiper inside Radio City last week. Kiper was preparing for his twenty-ninth season as ESPN's resident draft guru, a job that requires him to spend his entire year predicting which twenty-one-year-old amateur football players might make good twenty-two-year-old professional players, and then put in a few hours touting them on TV. What Dick Clark was to floppy-haired boys of the sixties Mel Kiper is to well-muscled ones of today: a golden ticket.

"It's a bit like Christmas morning," Kiper said of draft day, which was apt, since, Santa Claus aside, few people have jobs that center so exclusively on a single day. One sports Web site suggested that, each year, from May to March, he is locked in a hermetically sealed freezer. But, in addition to making regular televised appearances from his home studio, in Maryland, to discuss draft prospects, Kiper dedicates two days each week to watching film of prospects, which aids the production of "Mel Kiper, Jr.,'s Draft Report," the prospectus that he has sent to fans and teams, for an annual subscription fee, since he was a teen-ager.

"Mel, is this working for you?" Chris Berman, Kiper's co-host, said, pointing to an orange-yellow-and-purple tie he had chosen for the draft's opening round. "This is a Round One tie, baby," Berman said. Kiper was seated on ESPN's main set, wearing a more restrained tie, rimless eyeglasses, and the same slicked-back hair style that he has had ever since his wife told him she didn't like the long hair he had in the eighties. (ESPN promoted the broadcast with a marketing campaign, "Kiperized," in which photographs of other ESPN personalities were digitally enhanced to give them Kiper's coif and glasses.) An ESPN makeup artist said, of the hairdo, "You could bounce a quarter off that thing."

As the draft's first pick was made--Andrew Luck, quarterback, to the Indianapolis Colts--Kiper offered his analysis, while Berman communicated with producers in one of four white trailers that ESPN had parked along West Fifty-first Street. …

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