SPORTS DOCTOR- The Poe factor: Do NFL picks face a brick wall?
NBA playoffs or no NBA playoffs, this coming weekend is all about football.
The football to which I refer is of the NFL variety: that "hip-hop revue" (Torii Hunter's words, not mine) that offers premiere entertainment, whether on the field or in the courtroom.
This weekend the lambs march to the slaughter: 224 starry-eyed young men living and dying in ten-, seven-. and five-minute increments. Will they be able to buy their moma that eight-bedroom house, or will they have to settle for five? The tension is unbearable.
While promising picks continue to shuffle around in the top five, one thing is certain. UVA plays its most prominent role ever, and not because of Chris Long. UVA's influence on the NFL draft is in the person of a much darker son, complete with a drinking problem and a mustache: Edgar Allan Poe.
As far as I know, Poe never played football. I'm not even sure the game existed in 1826, but without him, the NFL draft wouldn't be the nail-biter it is today. If Poe had never developed the "thriller," we'd all be out cutting the grass this Saturday.
Drafting college players should be straightforward: defense, defense, defense, left tackle. Running backs and quarterbacks often fail to fulfill their collegiate promise. Why risk a round-one pick on an unknown factor when a 350-pound end is the same behemoth at FedEx Field that he was at LSU?
A linebacker doesn't have to learn new skills in the pros. Defense offers immediate return on investment, while quarterbacks, when they succeed in the NFL, are long-term ventures and considerable risks.
Still, no one ever described the NFL as a bastion of logic– and who would want it to be? Logic isn't very suspenseful, and without suspense, watching sports would be like sitting out in gym class.
Enter our black marauder.
Poe's mastery of suspense is unparalleled, inspiring Hitchcock, Welles, Stephen King, and countless others. Inspiring fear for a character's psychological and emotional welfare rivets the audience to a story, a fact not lost on Roger Goodell.
Take the false leak, a Poe classic. Often teams will start negative rumors about a desirable player. Diminishing a pick's value not only helps ensure his availability, but it sets both the player and the fans on edge. They sweat and stew and try to guess, but the resolution remains elusive.
Conversely, teams attempt to drive up the value of players they don't intend to draft, spurring other teams into taking them, thereby freeing up a coveted player. By focusing attention in one direction, the true story can play out subtly, leaving the audience unprepared for a plot twist.
The NFL's use of suspense would be for naught if the general public were not aware of it. Using Poe's method of first-person narration, the NFL ensures we view the draft through fearful eyes and share in the players' anxiety.
Remember last year? Poe would have been proud of the NFL's exploitation of poor Brady Quinn. Veritably assured a top position, Quinn was even rumored to be number one. Alas, it was not to be. After Quinn bit his nails through 10 picks, commissioner Goodell ushered him and his distraught family into a private suite.
After hours of watching Quinn's suffering, his absence only heightened our tension. ESPN's interview with the still-unsigned Quinn was as potent as the thud of a heartbeat beneath the floorboards. Just as the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart" begged the police to "tear up the planks: here, here," we too wished the horror would end.
One thing is certain: Quinn's ordeal assures that the NFL draft will be deliciously suspenseful. Who will be bricked up in the wall this year? Together with Chris Long, Matt Ryan, and Glenn Dorsey, we'll sit "Deep into that darkness peering ... wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dreamed before."
Who knew the NFL owed UVA such a debt of gratitude?