Monday, March 23, 2015

Review: On the Clock (2015)

By Barry Wilner and Ken Rappoport

An easy way to sum up the growth of the National Football League is to look at the Draft - the selection process used by teams to pick college players.

Once upon a time, this procedure was done in a hotel ballroom, with little fanfare and hoopla. Now, the Draft has been staged at such places as Radio City Music Hall in New York, and it's going on the road to Chicago this year to spread the excitement.

What happened? Veteran football writers Barry Wilner and Ken Rappoport teamed up to tell some of the stories about the draft. "On the Clock" give the allotment procedure a quick once over.

The authors jump around quite a bit in their coverage after devoting the first chapter to the 2014 proceedings. Jay Berwanger is the answer to a couple of trivia questions - the first NFL draft choice, and the first Heisman Trophy winner. Berwanger turned down the pros because they didn't offer enough money. That hasn't been an issue for some time.

Bert Bell, the former commissioner of the league, gets credit for creating the draft. It was a revolutionary step at the time. Baseball essentially let any team sign anyone it wanted until the middle of the 1960s, something that certainly helped the New York Yankees plant the seeds that led to championships. Football spread out the wealth about 30 years before that, keeping the rich teams and poor teams on a more level playing field.

Still, the draft didn't begin to expand in interest until the early 1980s, when ESPN started televising the show. As the production values grew, the draft served as a bridge between college and pro football. The college fans were interested in seeing where their boys would go in the pros, and the pro fans treated the day like Christmas - teams knew they'd get something good, but they weren't sure what until they got to "open them." The broadcasts led to the rise of such analysts as Mel Kiper Jr.

Wilner and Rappoport have a few other subjects to cover. There's the story about top draft picks who didn't wind up with their drafting team for one reason or another - Bo Jackson, John Elway, Eli Manning. The authors also pick a best pick and a bust pick for each team as well as the top five all-time draft choices by position - which is a lot like just picking something close to an all-time team, since just about everyone in the past 60 years has been drafted.

The material can be read in a couple of hours, and the authors know what they are talking about. Still, this feels like a very basic look at the subject. There aren't many "inside" stories on the teams and players. In fact, my guess is that most football fans will have at least a passing familiarity with the material that's covered here.

Those looking for a primer on this spring tradition could do worse that picking up a copy of "On the Clock." But it's probably going to have trouble finding an audience.

Two stars

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