It is often said that the first step towards recovering from any addiction is admitting that you have a problem. I don't really ever want to recover from my addiction, but I do feel a need to acknowledge my weakness.
My name is Duane and I am a draft junkie.
There, I said it. I know it's not as scandalous or newsworthy as Tiger Woods' sex addiction (seriously, an IHOP waitress?!?) but we don't choose our demons.
I use the word "junkie" because, although the CFL Draft is my passion, the reality is that I love previewing, following, studying, and revisiting drafts in almost any sport or league. I've also been known to let my love of drafts influence my personal life.
It's with a twisted sense of pride that I admit that my first ever draft board was used to decide who I would ask to the prom in my senior year of high school. True story. I actually created a small board with movable name plates on which I had written the candidates' names. Committed to leaving no stone unturned, my draft board went about 15-20 deep and even included one or two "long term projects". Okay, they were ninth graders but don't judge me...one of those ninth graders ended up being a model and actress, so clearly I knew talent, even back then. Anyway, my pre-prom draft board ultimately had to be destroyed shortly before D-Day. I had to leave my two closest female friends (a.k.a. Prospects 1A and 1B on my board) unattended in my house and feared that, if they snooped in my bedroom and found the board, I would need to find a new Prospect 1A and 1B. I only wish I was making this up.
Whether I'm up late watching "Path to the Draft" on NFL Network or trading emails and phone calls with contacts in the world of football, I rarely sleep at this time of year. I have a wonderful family but my BlackBerry wallpaper is a CFL Draft logo. I've been a Mel Kiper Jr. fan since 1988, which was the first time I saw the wonderful expression of disgust on his face every time a team made a pick he didn't like. I'm hooked and, since misery loves company, I want you to be hooked with me.
Starting Friday through Draft Day on Sunday, May 8, it will be all about the CFL Draft but to ease you all into what I hope will become an addiction, here's a look at ten drafts from various sports that have fueled my "habit" over the years.
1979 NHL Draft: This is honestly the first draft of any kind into which I can really remember immersing myself and, in retrospect, it might have been the deepest NHL Draft ever. Mark Messier was the best player to emerge from this class but, at the time, I really had no awareness of him. As a young but very serious sports fan, there were two storylines that captivated me. I had followed the WHA a bit and, because the Birmingham Bulls had started out in Toronto as the Toros, they were my favourite team in the recently defunct league. The first theme involved a group of players (Rob Ramage, Craig Hartsburg, Rick Vaive, Michel Goulet, Gaston Gingras, and Pat Riggin) known as the "Baby Bulls" who had played for Birmingham as under aged juniors, being drafted into the new 21 team NHL. The other thing that always stuck with me was three Brandon Wheat Kings linemates; Laurie Boschman, Brian Propp, and Ray Allison, along with their teammate, defenceman Brad McCrimmon all being chosen in the first round. Even today, anyone who watched a lot of hockey in the eighties would be impressed looking back at that draft.
1983 NBA Draft: In high school, I was a pretty good football player but I was actually better at basketball, and by the end of ninth grade in the spring of '83, I was following both NBA and NCAA hoops pretty closely. My completely unrealistic pro basketball dreams (is there really a market for 6'0" power forwards?) were still alive at that point and, as a result, I was somewhat inspired when two Canadians, Leo Rautins and Stewart Granger, were chosen in the first round of the NBA Draft. As an aside, my interest in and support for Canadian athletes extend beyond football and, as such, I've always maintained an interest in Canada's place on the world basketball map. In fact, in university, I wrote a Canadian Sports History essay about the fact that Canada has never had its twelve best basketball players on the national team at the same time. Discuss amongst yourselves.
1983 NFL Draft: This was known as the "Year of the Quarterback", as six pivots, including future Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino, were taken in the first round. I remember hating Elway over his refusal to play for the Baltimore Colts, who had drafted him first overall. As a young "draft purist," I felt that he was disrespecting a key aspect of the draft concept - weaker teams get higher picks so they can get better. I questioned how a lousy team could ever improve if the top prospects wouldn't play for them. As you'll read later, I've since overcome those feelings but I still use this draft to illustrate a point made to me by B.C. Lions defensive coordinator Mike Benevides, a fellow draft junkie. His theory, with which I agree 100 percent, is that offensive linemen are to the CFL Draft what quarterbacks are to the NFL Draft. I'll explain this further as the draft approaches.
1986 CFL Draft: Prior to 2009, when TSN aired the CFL Draft, '86 marked the only time that I remember actually being able to watch the CFL Draft on television. My future teammate, 6'7" defensive end Kent Warnock from Calgary, went first overall. Unlike today, it seems that in 1986, teams weren't afraid to gamble high picks on potential NFLers. Remarkably, the next three picks all wound up down south...and none of them were long shots. Saskatchewan stayed local, gambling on North Battleford's Rueben Mayes second overall, despite the fact that, in 1984, he had set an NCAA single game rushing record (357 yards). He ended up being the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year with New Orleans, who had drafted him in the third round (57th overall). Toronto followed by taking Boise State defensive end Markus Koch, who wound up earning two Super Bowl rings with the Washington Redskins after being chosen in the second round (30th overall) of the NFL Draft. At No. 4, Ottawa took Queen's offensive tackle Mike Schad, who remains the only Canadian university player to ever be chosen in the first round (23rd overall) of the NFL Draft. Needless to say, 1986 was the best NFL draft class this country has ever produced.
1989 NHL Draft: It's no secret that I'm a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. In fact, my family has had season tickets since well before I was born. Don't hold it against me. I just like watching hockey and I support my hometown team. Anyway, in the 1988-89 season, the Leafs were awful, as they had been for some time, but fans had reason for hope because the perpetually rebuilding franchise had three first round picks (3rd, 12th, and 21st overall) in the '89 Draft. Well, the hope didn't last long as the three picks were used on Scott Thornton, Rob Pearson, and Steve Bancroft, all members of a Belleville Bulls team that had finished the previous season eight games under .500. It wasn't a great class but they still could've had Bill Guerin, Olaf Kolzig, and Adam Foote had they scouted beyond a 200 km radius from Toronto. The strategy of loading up your draft board with players from a specific program doesn't usually work in the NHL, where the talent pool is spread all over the world. However, that strategy could fly in certain CFL draft classes, if a given CIS school had a particularly strong recruiting class four years earlier. This year's Calgary Dinos would make a great case study of this theory.
1991 NHL Draft: One rule of any football training camp I've ever attended is that it's important for rookies to know their place...and their place doesn't include picking what music plays in the dressing room or what's on TV in the dining hall. In '91, I was a rookie with the Calgary Stampeders, but I was also a full blown draft junkie, who wanted to know whether or not Eric Lindros would put on the Quebec Nordiques jersey when they drafted him first overall. So, I got changed and showered as fast as possible after the morning practice on NHL Draft Day so I could be one of the first ones to the dining hall. I correctly figured that, if I could get the draft turned on before anyone else arrived, no one would bother to change the channel. This draft meant something to me because I was now a professional athlete coming to grips with the fact that in pro sports, management really had all the power. As a result, where I had despised John Elway eight years earlier, by the time Lindros pulled the same stunt, I appreciated that, on the rare occasion that an athlete has the power to control his own destiny within his sport, he should exercise it.
1993 CFL Draft: I spent Draft Day 1993 in Ottawa with my then girlfriend. This was the draft where I realized that I had a knack for knowing what was going to unfold on Draft Day. In the middle of the afternoon, I turned to my girlfriend and said, "The draft started an hour ago so I've probably been traded by now." My premonition was confirmed by a phone call later that day from Paul Jones telling me that his Winnipeg Blue Bombers had acquired me from the defending Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders, with whom I had spent the previous two seasons. Getting traded is the sports world's version of getting dumped by your girlfriend...which also happened to me later that year. In the case of getting traded though, it was the best thing for me. With Winnipeg, we went on to play in the Grey Cup that year in Calgary while the heavily favoured Stamps lost in the West Final. As for the girlfriend, we'll call it a wash, as I went from a girl who cheated on me to one who ultimately cost me a lot of money.
1999 NFL Draft: By 1999, I wasn't just a draft fan. I was an amateur draft analyst and, as a veteran CFLer, my strongest feeling about this draft, reflected that perspective. A lot of people remember '99 as the year where Mike Ditka traded every pick his New Orleans Saints possessed to move up and take Ricky Williams, after the Colts passed him up in favour of Edgerrin James. I, on the other hand, remember watching on television as quarterbacks Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, and Daunte Culpepper were chosen second, third, and eleventh overall respectively. This isn't about race. It's about style of play. In 1999, Doug Flutie was establishing himself as an NFL star and Jeff Garcia had just left Calgary for San Francisco. Those events, along with this draft served notice that the NFL now valued athletic, scrambling, "CFL style" QBs. It was a point hammered home two years later when Michael Vick went first overall in the NFL Draft and CFL starters Dave Dickenson and Henry Burris were lured down south. What it all meant was that finding elite pivots would become much more difficult for CFL scouts.
2007 CFL Draft: One of the weakest drafts of the last decade is a personal favourite of mine because it was the first CFL Draft broadcast in which I participated. It was available only online at CFL.ca but was, without a doubt, the first step towards getting the CFL Draft back on television. Current TSN Sports Radio personality Mike Hogan was on the desk with me and my No. 1 highlight was knowing exactly who Henry Bekkering was when Calgary picked him in the fifth round.
2011 CFL Draft: If you find the CFL's collection of quirky rules endearing then you should love the draft. This year's edition includes examples of several of the league's quirkiest rules regarding player eligibility and tomorrow, I'll use those examples to help explain some of the rules. There's no doubt that, as a group, CFL fans are becoming increasingly interested in the draft but I'm also convinced that part of the reason why people aren't more in tune with it is that they don't really understand who's eligible for it. Over the years, I've seen online forums where CFL fans try to answer each other's questions about the draft and, with all due respect, it's like the blind leading the blind. I've even seen people trying to do mock drafts and provide analysis who clearly don't understand the rules. Hopefully tomorrow's article will help clear things up.