The Mysterious Allure of the NFL Draft

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Defensive end Mario Williams of N.C. State is the first pick. Then what? Chicago Sun-Times columnist Ron Rapoport tells Scott Simon why he thinks the NFL draft captures the imaginations of so many Americans.

SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Time now for sports.

Strange sports ritual takes place this weekend, the NFL draft. Those who are drafted don't get sent to Iraq. These ones become millionaires. Last night, the Houston Texans laid claim to Mario Williams from North Carolina State. He's a defensive end.

Popping any possible suspense as to who'll be drafted first, our own sports media spectacle, Ron Rapoport joins us from Chicago.

Hello, Ron.

RON RAPOPORT: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: The Saints were supposed to take Mario Williams in the second round, while the Texans went for Reggie Bush, the USC running back. So like, what happened? And the Saints needing defensive help, yeah?

RAPOPORT: This is just delicious, Scott. This was such a gutty move by the Texans. Everybody agrees, just about, that Reggie Bush of USC is the greatest talent at running back to come along in years. And Scott, some Houston fans wanted them to draft Texas quarterback Vince Young so badly...

SIMON: Yeah.

RAPOPORT: ...they were taking out ads in the papers. But if you really want to know who's unhappy about, you know, Mario Williams — the Texans taking Mario Williams, it's those fans football fans and analysts for whom draft days is big...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RAPOPORT: ...or even bigger than the Super Bowl. I mean, the number one announcement is supposed to be the culmination of this whole year of stuff. And it's supposed to made at, you know, at the thing, and not the day before by a press release. This just takes all the fun out of it.

SIMON: So why did the Texans take Mario Williams? I mean...

RAPOPORT: Well, they said, if you'd been listening carefully, that they really like him, the defense. You know, they chose...

SIMON: I didn't ask for the public relations answer. I was asking for yours.

RAPOPORT: Maybe because they thought he was a better football player. Is that possible?

SIMON: No.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Let's be adult about this, Ron. There are some people who think, look, Vince Young, obviously had a great Rose Bowl. And, well, all right. Let me just put it this way. There are some people who will tell you Jay Cutler, quarterback out of Vanderbilt, is the real class quarterback in this draft.

RAPOPORT: Yeah. But Young is just so talented. He can just do so many things. At Rose Bowl, he just opened people's eyes wide open. The problem, I think, is how he will fit with his style of being able to run, and throw, and just about everything on a football field into a very rigid NFL system, you know. Then the word leaked out that he scored poorly on the written test, which is sort of the NFL's version of the SATs.

SIMON: But surely, he doesn't want to be a sportswriter.

RAPOPORT: Well, I don't know...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RAPOPORT: ...but why do they give them these tests then, if they're going to worry about it?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Ron, should we remind ourselves that people like Joe Montana, Arch Darwin(ph), very low in the draft?

RAPOPORT: Well, yeah. Dan Marino was 27th. And Tom Brady was a sixth-round draft choice, Scott.

SIMON: Yeah.

RAPOPORT: And how many Super Bowls has he been too? Genius at work.

SIMON: Six, if I'm not mistaken. Okay. Ron, I still keep hoping your name will pop up one of these years in the draft.

RAPOPORT: I'm rooting for Simon.

SIMON: Ron Rapoport, columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and our sports commentator here on WEEKEND EDITION, who will be watching each and every moment of the NFL draft, as if he could possibly avoid it.

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