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Bud Shaw's Guide to the NFL Draft

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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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Pop Culture
The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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