This year’s NFL draft was supposed to be a spectacle. Players were going to be ferried on boats across the Bellagio fountains to a waiting commissioner Roger Goodell while thousands of fans watched from the Las Vegas Strip. Sure, that’s a little much, but when given the option between going big and going home, the NFL always errs on the side of gigantism. At least, it did before the coronavirus pandemic forced the league inside.
ESPN’s broadcast of the draft’s first round on Thursday was a feat of extreme Zooming. The league and the network set up 180 remote video feeds—58 of which went to potential draft picks to install in their homes—in order to bring viewers the breadth of coverage they could have expected were the event held under normal circumstances. Dozens of NFL reporters and insiders stood by in their home offices to provide analysis, and, if you closed your eyes, you might have been fooled into thinking that you were watching a normal studio show. Well, a normal studio show during a pandemic.
The broadcast opened with a post–terrorist attack–style montage narrated by Peyton Manning, featuring shots of first responders and empty playgrounds. Goodell hosted the event from his Westchester home, in what looked to be a stately rumpus room. (I don’t know if he always keeps a pair of Bose headphones displayed prominently in front of his TV, but I would never doubt the man’s fealty to the league’s official sponsors.)
It became evident during these early moments that this unprecedented NFL draft would feature plenty of the same ingratiating trappings found in normal drafts. There was Goodell’s standard spiel of self-serious pomp (find and replace “troops” with “health care heroes”) and a performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Harry Connick Jr.
The Cincinnati Bengals have known they were taking quarterback Joe Burrow for months, yet the team still felt the need to use up its full 10 minutes on the clock. By 8:26 pm ET, there were still 29 more picks to be made. This year, like all the years, the NFL needed more than three hours to fill out an Excel spreadsheet.
But just as the evening threatened to turn into the same old slog, there came a saving grace: footage from inside the homes of coaches, general managers, and executives. These characters usually spend draft nights stationed in their facility’s “war rooms,” but, thanks to social distancing, we got to see them in their more natural environments.
Yes, that is Washington head coach Ron Rivera trapped inside the most terrifying Night Gallery episode ever.
Not every look inside an NFL heavy’s house was creepy. Some setups, like Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s, were downright endearing.
The same could be said for Washington VP of player personnel Kyle Smith and his comfy-looking sectional.
But when it came to bizarre living situations, New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman took the cake. The man famous for drafting Daniel Jones sat in what looked to be a barren, wainscoted attic with a big-screen TV set atop a plastic folding table. (There was also a carefully placed towel in there.) Kudos to him for wearing a mask and setting a good example.
On the other side of the décor spectrum was Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury, seen here waiting for his children’s new tutor and art therapist to arrive.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, meanwhile, made his team’s pick from a yacht. Because in these difficult times, it’s important to remember that the NFL is right there with you.
In keeping with the nautical theme, please enjoy Bill Belichick’s tall ship commemorative plate.
And something crazy is happening at Mike Vrabel’s house—that Big Buck Hunter arcade game is unplugged for some reason.
Hopefully, the world will return to relative normalcy by next year’s draft. But let’s not rush these NFL executives back into their war rooms. With any luck, this one specific work-from-home situation will be made permanent.
Correction, April 23, 2020: This post originally misspelled Kliff Kingsbury’s first name.