Bud Shaw's Guide to the NFL Draft

The NFL draft is upon us. We know this because Mel Kiper Jr., who has made a comfortable living as a draft guru for ESPN, is fully prepped for what has become an American sports spectacle.

Scouting reports? All in his head. Sharpenened pencils? Whatever for? Key to the men's room? Pffft. Save that for the sissies.

It seems only fair that if we know everything about the draft prospects -- from their Wonderlic test scores to their time in the three-cone agility run to the size of their hands -- that we should know even more than is necessary about the face of the draft himself.

For one thing, Kiper doesn't go to the rest room once the draft begins until it ends each day. Ever.

The NFL draft is an exercise in TMI -- too much information -- and now I feel I've done my part in sharing that bathroom scouting report on Kiper.

I'm not sure when the draft reached its information tipping point. But it was definitely long after 1946, when the Washington Redskins chose UCLA back Cal Rossi as their first round pick. He was the ninth player taken overall.

The only problem? Rossi was just a junior and ineligible for the draft at the time.

Embarrassed, the Redskins took a full year to recover from their blunder. They chose Rossi again the following year. That's when they found out Rossi had no intentions of playing pro football.

Draft Lesson No. 1: Always do your homework.

Now homework on NFL draft prospects is a year-long cram, and nobody hooks up the caffeine IV and hits the library quite like ol' Mel.

It was during a recent interview on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption that Kiper verified he does not use the men's room once the draft begins.

This year the draft is a three-day affair for the first time with only the opening round in prime-time Thursday night. The second and third rounds go Friday. Rounds four through seven on Saturday. In the previous format, the first day of the draft could stretch 10 or 11 hours. Not even one bathroom visit?

Kiper explained on PTI that he did take a lavatory break one year—but never again. He said it took him two or three picks to get his enthusiasm level back to where it needed to be.

What was he doing in there? Using the facilities or giving blood? For the sake of his kidneys, couldn't ESPN station a nurse outside the men's room to hand him a sugar cookie on his way out?

A three-day draft instead of two seems a good opportunity for Kiper to strike an endorsement deal.

"Got a lot to do and can't afford to leave your work station? This is Mel Kiper Jr. for Depends."

Or, "This is Mel Kiper Jr. for Just Catheters."

Kiper has become an American sports institution right along with the draft he covers. This is his 28th year. It's the 75th year for the NFL.

He started preparing scouting reports as a teenager and would take them to the Baltimore Colts' training camp and hand them out.

There are still people who don't accept them in the intended spirit.

In NFL circles, one famous Kiper-related eruption made the volcano in Iceland that shut down air traffic all over Europe look like a puff of cigarette smoke.

It came from Colts' president Bill Tobin, who objected vigorously to Kiper's on-air criticism of his organization for passing up quarterback Trent Dilfer in the 1994 draft.

"Who is Mel Kiper?" Tobin railed. "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."

Here's another anti-Kiper rant from Tobin:

Kiper is part of why the draft has become such a televised spectacle. He doesn't use note cards. His projections might not be any better than your neighbor the mailman, but his memory bank on players is encyclopedic.

Like Watching Someone Read the Phone Book

The NFL unintentionally helped make Kiper the industry he's become. Teams can't let the average fan inside their draft preparations. They're protecting state secrets as far as they're concerned, trying to purposely mislead their competition about their intentions.

So Kiper and the draftniks who've followed are the conduits to the hungry fans dying for information on the players they convince themselves are crucial to their team's success. So we know why Kiper is big. But he alone can't account for the viewer ratings jumping 60 percent over the past handful of years.

The event that became his vehicle to fame moved into Radio City Music Hall in 2006 and just keeps growing.

Back in 1980, when ESPN chief Chet Simmons approached NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle about televising the draft, Rozelle thought he was joking.

"Why would you want to do that?" Rozelle asked.

ESPN's Chris Berman, on a conference call a few years ago, referred to the draft in that context to reading "the Manhattan phone book on TV."

The draft was a blind spot for Rozelle, otherwise a man of vision.

Is it so popular because it feels like Christmas Day to fans? That while they might not get exactly what they wanted, they got enough to close the gap with the rich kid next door?

Is it because there is no real scoreboard to ruin the day for the fans of the lesser teams who make their selections from the cream of the crop at the top of the draft?

Do people watch just to see if Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis is going to go even further off the deep end one of these years and draft, say, every member of his lookalike band, Sha Na Na?

Is it because people see it as just another reality show where 20-somethings either hit the jackpot or sit on camera trying to look calm while their stock falls through the floor, as it did for Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn a few years ago?

Is it because the NFL is so popular it could draw a crowd for Cat Flag Football if it slapped its logo on it and ESPN bought the TV rights?

It's for all of those reasons. It's certainly not because all the scouting, probing, measuring and testing has made drafting players such a sure thing.

Busts

Two years ago, ESPN.com released its list of the Top 50 Draft Busts.

Having lived in Cleveland since 1991, I was surprised to find only three Browns on that list. It seems as if there have been three worthy candidates a year.

No. 8 on the list was Mike Junkin, a Duke product drafted fifth overall in 1987. He was trumpeted to Browns fans as "a mad dog in a meat market." Not so much.

No. 19: Quarterback Tim Couch of Kentucky. Joining the expansion Browns in 1999 as the No. 1 overall pick, he spent most of his time in Cleveland being treated like a pinata.

No: 34: Craig Powell, a linebacker from Ohio State. He was drafted in the first round in 1995. Browns' owner Art Modell moved the team to Baltimore after that season. So poor Craig Powell was considered a bust in two cities.

The Browns' draft pick that stands out to me, though, was a fifth-round selection in 2001. His name was Jeremiah Pharms.

With all the scouting tools at their disposal, the Browns overlooked one small detail: Pharms had been under investigation for a drug-related shooting in the Seattle area for almost a year while he played his final season at the University of Washington. In the Browns' defense, University of Washington head coach Rick Neuheisel said he had no idea Pharms was in trouble. (For that crime at least. Pharms had a history of issues.)

Two weeks after the Browns drafted him and his maturity and high character were cited, police arrested him and he went to jail.

Bust? Or just busted?

I'll let Mel Kiper Jr. make the call.

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

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19 Shadowy Facts About Tim Burton's Batman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Superhero movies are bigger than they’ve ever been before, but we arguably wouldn’t be here at all without 1989’s Batman. Produced at a time before comic book movies were considered big business, Tim Burton’s dark look at a superhero then best known for a goofy TV show is a pop culture landmark, and the story of how it was made is almost as interesting as the film itself. So, to celebrate Batman—which was released on this day in 1989—here are 19 facts about how it came to the screen.

1. AN EARLY MOVIE IDEA RELIED ON THE CAMPINESS OF THE CHARACTER.

As development of a Batman movie began, studio executives were still very tied to the campiness embodied by the Batman television series of the 1960s. According to executive producer Michael Uslan, when he first began attempting to get the rights to make a film, he was told that the only studio who’d expressed interest was CBS, and only if they could do a Batman In Outer Space film.

2. IT TOOK 10 YEARS TO MAKE.

Uslan lobbied hard for the rights to Batman, and finally landed them in 1979. At that point, the fight to convince a studio to make the film ensued, and everyone from Columbia Pictures to Universal Pictures turned it down. When Warner Bros. finally agreed to back the film, the issue of developing the right script had to be settled, and that took even more time. In 1989, after years of battling, Batman was finally released, and Uslan has been involved in some form in every Batman film since.

3. AN EARLY SCRIPT FEATURED BOTH THE PENGUIN AND ROBIN.

When Uslan finally got the chance to develop the film, he drafted legendary screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had been a consultant on Superman, to write the script. The Mankiewicz script included The Joker, corrupt politician Rupert Thorne, a much greater focus on Bruce Wayne’s origin story, The Penguin, and the arrival of Robin late in the film. The script was ultimately scrapped, but you can see certain elements of it in Batman Returns.

4. TIM BURTON WASN’T THE FIRST POTENTIAL DIRECTOR.

Though Warner Bros. ultimately chose Tim Burton to helm Batman, over the course of the film’s development a number of other choices emerged. At various points on the road to Batman, everyone from Gremlins director Joe Dante to Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman was in line for the gig.

5. MANY STARS OF THE TIME WERE CONSIDERED FOR BATMAN.

The casting process for Batman was a long one, and involved a number of major stars of the day. Among the contenders for the title role were Mel Gibson, Bill Murray (yes, really), Kevin Costner, Willem Dafoe, Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, Ray Liotta, and Pierce Brosnan, who later regretted turning down the role.

6. TIM BURTON HAD TO FIGHT TO CAST MICHAEL KEATON.

At the time, Michael Keaton was best known for his comedic roles in films like Mr. Mom and Night Shift, so the thought of casting him as a vigilante of the night seemed odd to many. Michael Uslan remembers thinking a prank was being played on him when he heard Keaton’s name pop up. Burton, who’d already worked with Keaton on Beetlejuice, was convinced that Keaton was right for the role, not just because he could portray the obsessive nature of the character, but because he also felt that Keaton was the kind of actor who would need to dress up as a bat in order to scare criminals, while a typical action star would just garner “unintentional laughs” in the suit. Burton ultimately won the argument, and Keaton got an iconic role for two films.

7. JACK NICHOLSON WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE JOKER, BUT HE WASN’T THE ONLY CHOICE.

From the beginning, Uslan concluded that Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice to play The Joker, and was “walking on air” when the production finally cast him. He certainly wasn’t the only actor considered, though. Among Burton’s considerations were Willem Dafoe, James Woods, Brad Dourif, David Bowie, and Robin Williams (who really wanted the part).

8. TIM BURTON WON JACK NICHOLSON OVER WITH HORSEBACK RIDING.

When Nicholson was asked to discuss playing The Joker, he invited Burton and producer Peter Guber to visit him in Aspen for some horseback riding. When Burton learned that was what they’d be doing, he told Guber “I don’t ride,” to which Guber replied “You do today!” So, a “terrified” Burton got on a horse and rode alongside Nicholson, and the star ultimately agreed to play the Clown Prince of Crime.

9. EDDIE MURPHY WAS ONCE CONSIDERED TO PLAY ROBIN.

Though the character of Robin was ultimately scrapped because it simply didn’t feel like there was room for him in the film, he did appear in early drafts of the script, and at one point producers considered casting Eddie Murphy—who, you must remember, was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1980s—for the role. 

10. SEAN YOUNG WAS THE ORIGINAL VICKI VALE.

Burton initially cast Blade Runner star Sean Young as acclaimed photographer Vicki Vale, who would become Bruce Wayne’s love interest. Young was part of the pre-production process on Batman for several weeks until, while practicing horseback riding for a scene that was ultimately cut, she fell from her horse and was seriously injured. With just a week to go until shooting, producers had to act fast to find a replacement, and decided on Kim Basinger, who essentially joined the production overnight.

11. TIM BURTON WASN’T OFFICIALLY HIRED UNTIL BEETLEJUICE BECAME A HIT.

Though he was basically already a part of the production, Burton wasn’t officially the director of Batman right away. Warner Bros. showed interest in him working on the film after the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but according to Burton they only officially hired him after the first weekend grosses for Beetlejuice came in.

“They were just waiting to see how Beetlejuice did,” Burton said. “They didn’t want to give me that movie unless Beetlejuice was going to be okay. They wouldn’t say that, but that was really the way it was.”

12. DANNY ELFMAN THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO BE FIRED UNTIL HE PLAYED THE MAIN THEME.

Danny Elfman is now considered one of our great movie composers, but at the time Batman was released he didn’t have any blockbuster credits to his name. He recalls meeting with Burton (with whom he had worked on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure) and producer Jon Peters to go over some of the music he’d already written for the film, and feeling “a lot of skepticism” over whether he should be the composer for Batman. It wasn’t until Burton said “Play the march,” and Elfman went into what would become the opening credits theme for the film, that he won Peters over.

“Jon jumped out of his chair, really just almost started dancing around the room,” Elfman said.

13. THE JOKER WASN’T ALWAYS GOING TO KILL BATMAN’S PARENTS.

In the final film, The Joker (then named Jack Napier) is revealed to be the gangster who guns down Bruce Wayne’s parents in the streets of Gotham City. It’s a twist that some comic book fans still dislike, and according to screenwriter Sam Hamm, it definitely wasn’t his fault.

“That was something that Tim had wanted from early on, and I had a bunch of arguments with him and wound up talking him out of it for as long as I was on the script. But, once the script went into production, there was a writer’s strike underway, and so I wasn’t able to be with the production as it was shooting over in London, and they brought in other people.”

Hamm also emphasizes that it was also not his idea to show Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave.

14. THE CLIMACTIC SCENE WAS WRITTEN MIDWAY THROUGH SHOOTING.

Though much of the film is still derived from Hamm’s script, rewrites continued to happen during shooting, and one of them involved the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker in a Gotham City clock tower. According to co-star Robert Wuhl, the climax was inspired by Jack Nicholson and Jon Peters, who went to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera midway through filming and watched as the Phantom made his final stand in a tower. Together, they somehow determined that a final fight in the tower was what Batman needed.

“The next day, they started writing that scene … the whole ending in the tower,” Wuhl said.

15. MICHAEL KEATON’S BATMAN MOVEMENTS WERE INSPIRED BY THE RESTRICTIONS OF THE COSTUME.

Batman fans still love to make jokes about the original costume, and Michael Keaton’s inability to turn his head (there’s even a dig at that in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight), but the restrictions of the costume actually inspired how Keaton performed as the Dark Knight. In 2014, Keaton revealed that his performance as Batman was heavily influenced by a moment when, while trying to actually turn his head in the suit, he ended up ripping it.

“It really came out of the first time I had to react to something, and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning his head] and the whole thing goes, [rriipp]! There was a big f***ing hole over here,” he said. “So I go, well, I've got to get around that, because we've got to shoot this son of a bitch, so I go, 'You know what, Tim [Burton]? He moves like this [like a statue]!’”

“I'm feeling really scared, and then it hit me—I thought, 'Oh, this is perfect! This is perfect.' I mean, this is, like, designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that's really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it.”

16. GOTHAM CITY WAS REAL, AND IT WAS EXPENSIVE.

Production designer Anton Furst put a lot of work into the incredibly influential designs for the film’s version of Gotham City, and the production was committed to making them pay off. The production ultimately spent more than $5 million to transform the backlot of London’s Pinewood Studios into Gotham City, and you can see the dedication to practical effects work in the final film.

17. PRINCE WAS PART OF THE PRODUCTION EVEN BEFORE HE JOINED IT.

Batman famously features original songs by Prince, who wrote so much new material for the production that he basically produced a full album. Even before the Purple One was drafted to write for the film, though, he was influencing it. Burton played Prince songs on set during the parade sequence and the Joker’s rampage through the museum.

18. THE FILM’S MARKETING WAS SO EFFECTIVE THAT IT INSPIRED CRIMES.

By the time Batman was actually on its way to release, it was becoming a phenomenon, and the marketing for the film was inspiring a frenzy among fans. People were buying tickets to other films just to see the first trailer, and selling bootleg copies of the early footage. The poster, featuring the iconic logo, was so popular that, according to Uslan, people were breaking into bus stations just to steal it.

19. IT WAS A BOX OFFICE LANDMARK.

Though studio executives resisted the idea of a “dark” Batman movie for years, the film ultimately set a new standard for box office success. It was the first film to ever hit $100 million in 10 days, the biggest film in Warner Bros.’ history at the time, and the box office’s biggest earner of 1989—and that’s not even counting the massive toy and merchandising sales it generated.

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