It is that time of year. That Mel and Todd time of year. That 14,000 hours of continuous NFL Network coverage time of year. I remain bedridden from the network's "preseason schedule" special.
It's that time of year, when the National Football League reminds us who runs the sports world. Here are four words that should send you scurrying to build a backyard underground shelter: seven-round mock drafts.
They tell me the NFL is in trouble. The league's TV ratings are down. The concussion situation borders on scandal. Roger Goodell, Keystone Kommisioner, has not helped. But if you ever wondered who is running the show, just watch the next several days. The NFL will grab the stage as no sport can when it's not playing actual games. College football tries with its national signing day. Step aside, youngster, let Big Daddy through.
It goes beyond next week's NFL draft, which transfixes us. Bugs fly in and out of our mouths. The draft gets bigger and bigger. It is now a movable feast, with a stop this year in Philadelphia, cradle of independence and first-rounders Jefferson, Adams and Franklin. What a draft that was.
The NFL grabs hold and holds on, even with the Bucs all the way down at the 19th pick. A running back or an edge rusher? A tight end or a safety? The NFL is hypnotic like that, whether we like it or not.
Don't believe it?
The NFL schedule comes out tonight.
We will hold our breath. For a schedule. For a schedule, even though we already know every single team that the Bucs are playing. But this is about the order of the games, right? When will Tom Brady be coming to Tampa to play the Bucs? How cold will it be in cold-weather Buffalo and Green Bay when the Bucs go there? How much more love does the league shower on Jameis Winston, Gerald McCoy and the soon-to-be Hard Knocks Bucs via prime-time games … Monday night, Sunday night, Thursday night?
Is it ever too early to break down the schedule into its basic enzyme groups?
The NFL, for all its problems, has perfected the sinister art of making nonevents into mega-events. Schedules have been coming out for thousands of years (Adam vs. Eve, Week 1), but no one does schedules like the NFL does schedules.
Can a baseball, hockey or basketball schedule match the NFL? Too many games. Okay, maybe you check out what ESPN Sunday nights the Yankees are playing the Red Sox, or Cubs are playing the Cardinals (answer: every one). Or you check out the NBA Christmas games, or the exact dates of the Rays' 19 games with the Blue Jays or when to set up those Woodstock-like Lightning-Panthers gatherings.
It's nothing like pro football. The NFL makes the rules. With the help of its own network, and ESPN, the NFL makes events out of nonevents as much as it pleases: the draft combine, rookie minicamps, "organized team activities," mandatory minicamps. These didn't used to be events. Now they're televised. I eagerly await the first showing of disorganized team activities. Coming up on NFL Update: Donovan Smith trips over a medicine ball.
The league and its partners have conveyed to fans that what happens in March and April translate into what happens to your team in January … your team is alive in January because it did a good job in free agency and the draft. And that's not stretching it.
"If the NFL draft is generating ratings for ESPN and NFL Network that are better than an NHL or NBA playoff game, that should you tell you something," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "I'm amazed at the interest the draft generates. I was stunned when the NFL did their first schedule show a few years ago and how good the ratings were."
You are coming along for the ride. You can't hide. Rich Eisen will come to your home with two analysts for a half-hour roundtable. They know you're in there, so don't try not answering. Also, Kiper and McShay have video of you going to and from your mailbox. You need to work on your explosiveness. Oh, and that water bill is past due.
It's April. Put the NFL on your schedule. Or else.