Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Welcome back old friend

He shows up every year around February. Like clockwork. As automatic as the mailman or the Pirates being out of the playoffs by July. Spending most of the winter months nestled deep in his hole, his emergence is covered by major news outlet across the US. What will his prediction be this year? Will it be a prosperous spring? Or will some still experience a dark, dreary outlook for the weeks and months to come. Only he knows. Punxsutawney Phil? My ass. This guy is more important and has a nicer head of hair.

Mel Kiper Jr. And his prediction is this...10 more weeks till the NFL Draft.

Mel has been popping up everywhere. He loves this time of year. The days get a little longer. They don’t seem as dreary. He shows up on ESPN radio, in Internet columns and newspaper clippings. With his car salesman smile and Johnny Fontaine charm, he holds in his hand the information that every team shells out countless of dollars to obtain.

With the NFL combines starting tomorrow, this is Mel’s bread and butter time. This is how he makes his living. Months of tape watching, scouting, reporting, and eavesdropping come down to a day of mass hysteria.

Listening to him talk up the intangibles of Darren McFadden on a recent radio spot, I started to wonder: How the hell does he know all this? Better yet, how does he remember? This isn't the NFL where you have to remember 32 teams of 50-60 players. He is forced to stay abreast on hundreds and hundreds of Division I-III players. I am not naive to think that he doesn't prep himself before every appearance, but he speaks off the cuff about random players in such a matter-of-fact fashion you would think he has 24 hour surveillance around their homes.

I searched online and found little information about the draft day guru. His bio is available on ESPN.com. Here is what I found:

Kiper is president of Draft Publications Inc., which he founded in 1981 while in college. It is responsible for all aspects of two annual publications: NFL Draft Report and Draft Preview.."

That fact astounds me. During college I found it impossible to attend two classes on the same day, and Mel is starting a business and compiling college football stat information. If I hadn’t concentrated so much on beer pong and getting, maybe things could have turned out different.

Mel Kiper Jr. has served as expert analyst for ESPN's annual NFL Draft coverage since 1984, providing in-depth information on the nation's most talented collegiate football players.

So he starts a company and three years later he is giving expert analysis on ESPN? Granted ESPN wasn't the sports information juggernaut it is today, but still that's impressive. Unless, it was easy to get a gig with an upstart 24 hours a day sports cable station. I want to interview the guy who hired him. "Well Mel showed up with a big book of stats he put together so we figured let's just put him on the air. If things didn't go well, we had Diamond David Lee Roth backstage. He just got booted from Van Halen, but he appealed to the younger demo."

His pre-draft predictions are frequently the most accurate in the business, often as much as 80 percent correct on first-round selections.

80% of the time? I’ll need some pie charts and back-up data on that statement. (I think this bio is getting a bit slanted in Mel’s favor.)

His continuous, yearlong research is aided by an office equipped with satellite dishes allowing him to pick up 20 to 25 college games each week.

Why am I picturing Mel in the Batcave, with a butler named Alfred making him Latte Shooters with a Red Bull chaser to keep him coherent for Nevada at Hawaii.

Mel's hair is made entirely of black licorice and shellacked with Minwax for that all day shine.

Ok, I made that up.

Another interesting note that ESPN omitted; Mel got into his personal life on the radio once and discussed some of his more peculiar habits. Among them, he eats pumpkin pie for breakfast every morning. True story.

Anyway. Welcome back Mel. We missed you.

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