As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com), April 2020
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Say it with me: “#$!% COVID-19.” Ah, that feels better.
Quarantine check: it has been 50 days since the NBA suspended its season and 49 days since schools closed. We should be checking baseball standings and following the Capitals’ playoff charge to another possible Stanley Cup. Instead we are watching re-runs of old baseball games, encore broadcasts of the Capitals’ march to the 2018 Stanley Cup and “The Last Dance”, that so far so sweet docuseries on the 1998 Chicago Bulls.
Thank God for the memories, I suppose.
Last Thursday, the NFL Draft mercifully stepped into this barren wasteland of cancelled athletic events and nostalgia grabs to offer the fix we craved: a live sporting event, minus actual blood and sweat, but with all the uncertainty, intrigue, excitement and even the occasional tears. Like interactions with family, work and schooling these days, it was virtual, which isn’t familiar or ideal, but with candid shots into the homes of coaches and general managers - lavish spreads, elite landscaping, kids and pets! - it was curiously different. What stood out most though, was that everyone – ESPN, the league, teams and prospective draftees – adapted and made it work. And isn’t that what we’re all doing right now: making “it”, whatever “it” is, work?
Moments into the broadcast, Ravens defensive linemen Calais Campbell, the current Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, made a brief cameo. I hadn’t even gotten my head wrapped around Commissioner Roger Goodell announcing picks from his man cave, Bill Belichick’s “war room”/kitchen table or Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury’s palatial spread before the NFL opened up this old wound.
Campbell has haunted me for a dozen years. See, back before the 2008 NFL Draft, he was a top prospect from the University of Miami and seemed a good fit for my struggling, Jim Zorn/Vinny Cerrato era ‘Skins of Washington. I am going to extend some benevolence to myself and those with similar rooting interests by cutting this long, sordid story short. So here’s the gist: the ‘Skins traded out of the first round and ended up with three second round picks. Campbell was available for the first two of those picks but the ‘Skins chose WR Devin Thomas and TE Fred Davis instead. Thomas lasted just over two years in D.C. and managed only 40 receptions. Despite showing promise, Davis’s career was over by 2013 after a series of drug suspensions and a DUI charge.
Meanwhile Campbell has been to five Pro Bowls, is a three-time All-Pro, was Defensive Player of the Year in 2017, is a member of the NFL 2010’s All-Decade Team and won the Bart Starr Award and Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 2019. But wait, there’s more! My favorite stat: Campbell, a DEFENSIVE LINEMAN, has three career touchdowns…matching the total touchdown catches Thomas managed in his “illustrious” career!
Ugh. Like I said, haunted…for…twelve…years.
I watched the 2008 NFL Draft at my sister’s house where our family had gathered to celebrate my nephew’s birthday. Not virtually. We were there live and in person. No one wore masks or practiced social distancing. Kids ran around like wild animals, a culinary spread filled the kitchen, candles were perfectly placed on the cake, presents covered the table, smoke billowed from the grill and adults mingle on the deck around a cooler of beer. Aside from the whiff on Campbell, it was a perfect day.
This year I wished my nephew a happy birthday via text. My dad and I talked on the phone before the draft about the ‘Skins’ prospects. After Philadelphia shocked the world by taking QB Jalen Hurts in the second round, I poked my bother-in-law and diehard Philly Goon with a text. It was okay, I guess – a sign of the times for football fans…a sign of the times for the world. Truth is, I’d trade it all in a second for another combined in-person draft day and birthday party, even it if meant the ‘Skins choosing two duds instead of this year’s version of Calais Campbell.
No doubt that’s a draft day trade we would all make.
Stay safe. Be well.