NFL Draft Weekend – the show that made Mel Kiper America’s most bizarre household name!

ESPN’s Mel Kiper is a genius.

Imagine a job where being right versus wrong is impossible to quantify.  Then, imagine results lag three to five years after work is complete.  Without the possibility of failure, only success can exist, right?  That’s the niche Kiper created for himself as a draft analyst, and that is why he is a genius.

For almost 40 years, Kiper has opined about the potential NFL careers of those likely to be drafted.  He will do it again tonight as part of the coverage of an event he has helped grow from bizarre afterthought believed to be unfit for broadcast to a monster cities build weekends around, like a mini Super Bowl.

It would be easy to congratulate Kiper for earning a full-time salary for three days work, but that would discount the insane level of prep needed for those three days.  Watching tape on those projected to be taken in the first round can be exhausting.  On Saturday, Kiper will offer informed opinions on anonymous interior offensive linemen taken in the seventh round.  That takes endless hours of effort.

What makes the draft work as a broadcast is that fans get to try to outguess their team’s GM and Kiper.  The closest comp to Mel’s role as ESPN brings the draft into our living room is hall of fame Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh inning stretch at Wrigley Field.  The key, according to Harry, was that everyone in the ballpark felt comfortable singing along because he was a terrible but enthusiastic singer.  We like outguessing Kiper because we are not intimidated by his insight.

Twenty-three years after Harry’s demise, the Cubs are still playing a video of him singing so fans who weren’t alive when he last drew breath can experience the joy of singing along.

It is far less fun to try to outguess Charley Casserly, a guy who won a Super Bowl as the GM of the Washington Football Team.  Casserly is a haughty executive right out of central casting.  Kiper is like us – goofy with an outdated ‘do.

Kiper is famous for two things beyond his draft weekend acumen – his helmet hair, which might have been in style when Kiper first came to ESPN, and a dust up with then Indianapolis Colts GM Bill Tobin after he selected Trev Alberts fifth overall in the 1994 draft.  Kiper thought Tobin should have taken quarterback Trent Dilfer instead, said so on ESPN, and Tobin became enraged.

Tobin’s tirade in full was, “Who in the hell is Mel Kiper, anyway? I mean, here’s a guy who criticizes everybody, whoever they take. In my knowledge of him, he’s never even put on a jockstrap, he’s never been a player, he’s never been a coach, he’s never been a scout, he’s never been an administrator, and all of a sudden, he’s an expert. Mel Kiper has no more credentials to do what he’s doing than my neighbor, and my neighbor’s a postman and he doesn’t even have season tickets to the NFL.”

The only problem was that Kiper was right.  Tobin helped make Kiper’s career while torching his own legacy.

Alberts even questioned the wisdom of Tobin grabbing him at five, and then backed up his lack of self-confidence by amassing 69 tackles in 29 games during a lackluster three-year career with the Colts.  Dilfer played for five teams from 1994-2007 and helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl in his only season in Baltimore.  Dilfer’s career wasn’t hall of fame worthy, but it was a hell of a lot more productive than Alberts’.

If you ask an informed NFL fan about Bill Tobin, they will say, “Oh the guy who took Trev Alberts and yelled at Mel Kiper?”  The truth is that Tobin, while imperfect, helped build and refine two pretty good teams – the 1987-1992 Chicago Bears and the Colts from 1994-1997.  Tobin drafted a few guys other than Alberts – Marshall Faulk, Marvin Harrison, and Tarik Glenn among them.  Tobin wasn’t great, but he wasn’t a buffoon either.

The moral of that story is that if you are going to put a media guy on blast, you better be right.

Who in the hell is Mel Kiper, anyway?  He’s the guy still doing the job, as he has for 27 years since Tobin’s effort to publicly eviscerate him.  Since then, he’s laughed all the way to the bank and deserves a spot as a contributor in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his major role in the NFL owning endless sports news cycles in April.

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