The pick is in.
What a delicious set of words.
The phrase rang through our living rooms and the monotony of our new lives Thursday night, a little sports jargon that sounded as sweet as "Down the stretch they come!" and ushered us forward or backward or at least to another place and time for a few hours.
Gentlemen start your engines!
Let's get ready to rumble!
Not bad ... not bad.
The pick is in.
Not traditionally, of course. But good enough for now. Good enough to serve as a small injection of what's wonderful about sports and fandom into the void since the world went dark and left us in a place of getting all geeked up about documentaries instead of competition.
I didn't realize I would embrace the NFL draft the way I did until it was just about upon us. I walked away from my latest ridiculous kitchen project _ contemplating ratios of chicken broth to Coca-Cola in cooking a sweet rice that would be the side dish on burger night _ and for the first time in a long time felt compelled to turn on the TV for something live and less predictable than a reality show. (The obnoxious drama on Lifetime's "Married at First Sight," I must admit, is something to embrace.)
Anyway, sports have always made, and will always make, the best reality TV and the draft was at least a partial reintroduction to something that Pre-March 2020 Leisure was built around. It felt like the damn Super Bowl. So Netflix and Amazon Prime and all the DVD recordings could wait _ Alex Trebek was even put on hold _ because it finally hit me around 7 p.m. just how much I missed and craved anything resembling live competition six weeks into isolation.
I'm typically indifferent, at best, to the draft process for all it has become, the manufactured hype, the unnecessary histrionics, the general unlikability of Roger Goodell, the long wait between picks, the over analysis, way too many talking heads speaking in absolutes about circumstances that are such a crapshoot.
But the NFL and ESPN did a hell of a job. The toned-down version of something usually overblown was an event absolutely needed, a little shakeup of our world with a peek into that of others. Look at this general manager's basement, this coach's couch, Bob Quinn's Winnebago, Bruce Arians chillin' on his patio in Tampa. All working from home like the rest of us, they were making selections that could stabilize or destroy their football futures.
Across the country, fans could boo or cheer and when was the last time such a large cross section of people were so invested in something? The WNBA draft was held a week earlier, another fine job done, but nothing, absolutely nothing _ not the NBA, not the NHL, not MLB _ is the global giant the NFL has become. These selections were more compelling to more people than anything the sports world had offered in nearly two months.
"The Cincinnati Bengals are on the clock," Goodell said early in the telecast, which first showed an eerily empty Las Vegas, where the draft was scheduled to take place, and saluted health care workers and even included Harry Connick Jr.'s live-from-home performance of the National Anthem.
Peyton Manning's voice set an early tone that was hammered home time and again: Hope.
"This may look like separation, but it is actually solidarity," Manning said over images that captured everything the country is battling. "It is sacrifice and service to the greater good. It's a sign that, through isolation, we are fighting as one. And there's no better reason than that for hope. Hope is something we sports fans know all about. It's what keeps us cheering year after year, for our favorite stars and our favorite teams."
Just about all of a nearly four-hour production on Thursday worked. It felt right, a new wrinkle, like sunshine in a weather pattern stuck in early March like time itself, allowing us to forget plans for deciding what room to rearrange or which college buddies might be up for online poker.
Joe Burrow to the Bengals, Chase Young to the Redskins, Jeff Okudah to the Lions and the Giants with the first surprise by taking Andrew Thomas. The scenes from players celebrating their selection at home _ those expressionless or staring at their phones, those overcome with emotion and sobbing _ provided a look just as enlightening as anything from the Vegas strip would have offered.
Sure there were glitches, the strange realities of too many analysts with too much to say separated by distance that even the best communication technology couldn't hide. Sure there were shortcomings, not enough interviews with coaches and GM's and players. Sure some of it was goofy and unnecessary, such as the Goodell's cheesy interaction with fans gathered via video conference.
But this year's relaxed version sure helped cure some of what ails us, the repetition, the boredom. By draft standards it was anything but obnoxious. The histrionics on a Vegas stage would have been fun ... for maybe five minutes. What we saw Thursday was something more straightforward, a healthy mix of business and information and entertainment.
ESPN was armed with a wealth on information on the teams and players involved, numbers and videos and quirky insight. I ate it up.
I wasn't really feeling that Jennifer Hudson "Lean on Me," segment minutes into it, about to flip burgers, I found myself slapping a spatula on the counter to the beat and dancing a little. I've gone insane, is the short of it, on Friday alone Googling different ways to use soda in cooking and having conversations with my cat that suggest I have expected him to learn the language in the time since I began working from home.
Later I turned to Lindsey, the extremely patient human in my life, and said, "Doesn't the term 'The pick is in' excite you more than anything in the history of the world?"
"No," she said.
She probably got more of a kick out of "On the clock."
That had a great ring, too.
Or maybe she was just mesmerized by the scrolling ticker on the bottom of the screen.
What a sight!