Love him or hate him, Mel Kiper Jr. is Mr. NFL Draft
Monday, April 19, 2010
Mel Kiper Jr. doesn't do bathroom breaks.
Perhaps that doesn't seem like an incredible feat, but it helps to realize that ESPN will broadcast a total of 15 hours of live NFL draft coverage this week, and Kiper will be under the stage lights the entire time. In 16 years as his producer, Jay Rothman has never seen Kiper sneak away for even a quick break.
Instead, he'll sit in the ready position at one end of the set, never needing to refer to any notes as the 255 names are called out. The entire time, his foot will be shaking uncontrollably.
"It goes a mile a minute, and it won't stop," Rothman says. "I swear to you. As long as we're on the air, it shakes. He's high-wired. A human adrenaline rush. He totally is."
Kiper, 49, usually doesn't notice. In church back in Maryland, his daughter, Lauren, holds his leg still. At Radio City Music Hall, though, it just shakes until the draft ends. At times, he can make the network's entire elevated set wobble. Joe Theismann, a former draft sidekick, once wondered aloud whether New York City experiences earthquakes.
It does. Once a year when Kiper makes the trek from his home outside of Baltimore and gives meaning and texture to the long list of barely-old-enough-to-drink insta-millionaires who are charged with changing a franchise's fortunes. Kiper calls it all "serious business."
"I'm not in it to be funny," he says, his words vacuumed tightly together, coming out as though each sentence is racing a stopwatch. "You can have the Comedy Channel for that."
'Who is Mel Kiper?'
This week marks the 28th year that Kiper has covered the draft for ESPN. Some might say he's seen it grow from a barely noticed Tuesday league meeting that warranted only small type in the next day's paper to an event that's surpassed only by the Super Bowl on the NFL calendar in interest, media coverage and anticipation. The truth is, he's helped it make that transformation.
His world of run-on sentences and 40-yard dash times has made Kiper more associated with the annual draft than anyone else, and an easy target for criticism.
"Who is Mel Kiper?" former Colts president Bill Tobin once asked. "He's never been a player, he's never been a coach, he's never been a scout, he's never been an administrator and all of a sudden he's an expert. He has no more credentials to do what he's doing than my neighbor, and my neighbor's a postman."
Said Mike Hickey, the Jets' former director of player personnel: "He knows about as much about football as I do about nuclear physics." And Ted Plumb, a former Eagles coordinator: "Who decided Mel Kiper was an expert, anyway?" And former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz: "I've missed somewhere along what Mel Kiper's done that makes him an authority."