Hard to believe, but NFL Network has now been co-airing the NFL draft with ESPN for 10 years. Before boarding a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago to broadcast his 10th consecutive live NFL draft, Awful Announcing caught up with longtime NFLN host Rich Eisen to talk shop.

Awful Announcing: What differentiates the draft from other major events NFL Network covers?

Rich Eisen: As opposed to the Super Bowl or the combine, there’s nobody actually physically exerting themselves at this event, nor are the main participants — the decision-makers — actually physically in the building. It’s really, more than anything else, a uniquely television event. The draft has gone from a functional, necessary part of the NFL world to get together and decide who gets drafted where, which now could be done anywhere through technology. It doesn’t have to take three days. And the reason why it’s kept that way is for television. There’s just no other way to put it. It’s changed a lot but it’s still the same old, same old where you choose players. But it’s become a completely different event from what it used to be when Bert Bell was getting the teams together at a New York hotel.

AA: What makes the draft rank ahead of other events you cover live?

RE: It’s physically demanding, it’s long. And the thing I really like about it is because it’s so long and because there’s so much to discuss, it allows for great conversation in real time based on real events as it’s happening. I do enjoy that about the draft. And I do enjoy working with such talented individuals both behind and in front of the camera. It really is just a unique situation, and now this year Chicago just puts it in a different stratosphere.

AA: I guess the draft gives you much more of an ability to work on the fly and break from a structured rundown?

RE: The Super Bowl you’re sitting around for seven days waiting for something to happen. This, you’re waiting for 10 minutes, then seven minutes, and then five minutes. So something is always happening. It moves very fast — faster than you think. Certainly now that the league has quite a lot going on at the facility, in the building — whether it’s a special guest who announces this pick or a presentation in between picks on stage — many times the challenge of hosting the draft is to remember who’s actually on the clock. There might be a point where the Jets are on the clock sitting at six and the commissioner’s still holding in his hand a card to announce the Raiders’ pick, because various commercial breaks might have hit or there’s something that happened on the stage. So I’m sitting there as the host and I’m saying, ‘OK, there’s the No. 6 pick on the clock but four is yet to be picked and there’s five sitting in the middle and seven might be next depending on what goes on at six. There might be a trade.’ There’s a lot of logistics and there’s a lot of information, and a lot of perspective that needs to be presented in a very short period of time. I do enjoy that challenge. And that’s what makes it unique. Super Bowl, you arrive on Monday and you’ve got your storylines and people sit there and don’t give you much of anything because they don’t want to rock the boat. And then the game finally happens. The combine’s just essentially a bunch of guys in spandex running around in a very quiet arena. They’re completely different events.

AA: Does doing the draft, with all of that pandemonium, give you a good chance to review your performance by watching tape?

RE: I think there are people, the producers at the network, whose job is to go over the post-mortem. I’m already usually on to the next thing. I’m always trying to improve or trying to do something different, but I’m also just trying to survive and advance 256 picks. I do them all. After 256 is done with, we’re off and running to something else.

AA: How does basically splitting coverage with ESPN work in terms of the dynamic? Do you guys work closely together or is it more a battle between two competitors?

RE: I don’t view it as any kind of competition or battle or anything like that. There’s a lot of friends of mine who work very hard on their draft coverage over at ESPN. We just do our own thing and I do my own thing. I can’t compare myself to Chris Berman, who’s done it forever. He’s done it since the beginning. He was the first guy to host the draft when people thought it would be the most ludicrous thing to actually televise. So I can’t bring that level of experience to table, so I don’t concern myself with it. I do my own thing and hope that people will find it enjoyable and informative and entertaining potentially. And certainly if you want somebody to stick with you over a span of three days — and good lord, almost 24 hours of television — somebody’s gotta want to not get sick of you. So I just try to set up my analysts in a way that makes them successful, know what they’re thinking hopefully because I’ve worked with them so much. So that’s the way I look at it. I do my own thing. I haven’t watched an ESPN draft in 13 years, so I wouldn’t presume to know what they’re doing. But I’m friends with [Adam] Schefter and obviously Chris Berman and people behind the scenes whom I’ve known for years.

AA: Does it frustrate you guys when top prospects like Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota decide not to show up?

RE: Nah, we’ll get ’em. I’m assuming that they’re going to allow media into their respective draft parties whenever they have it. The fact that they’re not there to shake the commissioner’s hand and smile, that’s just two presentations on the stage that just won’t happen. And guess what? Then the Jaguars potentially will go on the clock after those guys get picked and there’s 254 more draft picks to go. The show will go on, the draft will go on. We make a big deal of the fact that they’re not there, that’s two fewer people for the commissioner to stand up there and hold the jersey with. But in my mind if they’re 1-2 that means we get to Jacksonville right away and I’m not sitting there wondering when that pick is going to be announced because the Raiders have already made their quick selection. I don’t think the draft coverage will be any worse for it.

AA: What’s something most viewers don’t know about broadcasting events like these?

RE: A few things. The hard work that goes in behind the scenes having all of this footage ready and graphics ready for every single possible player that could be drafted and they don’t know what order it’s coming in. [Sometimes] they do know what order it’s coming in because the pick’s been made and processed through the draft table, and once that happens the draft table calls both trucks — ours and ESPN’s — to let us know what’s coming so they can get the graphics ready and get the video ready.

But Mike Mayock and I — and this may be the case for ESPN also, I don’t know — but we tell them we don’t want to know. We don’t want to know who’s being picked. We want to be surprised just like everybody else at home and get the genuine reaction. I want to be watching the draft like everybody at home is, on pins and needles watching where the commissioner is the town crier, so to speak. I want to go through that process also, and I think fans who are watching want to have their hosts and analysts react in a [genuine] way, that we all have a communal feeling to it. So we tell them, ‘Don’t tell us.’ And now because in this now and age it could take as long as three, four, maybe five minutes for a pick to be processed and announced, we’re not on Twitter looking at this either. People could tweet out this information because it’s being leaked by a team or there’s an agent who’s excited about his client being draft, calls a reporter and a reporter has no desire to do business with the NFL on a television front, they say the hell with it and tweet it out. And then there we are supposing what the pick could be and if we’re right, people accuse us of trying to make a grandstand play to try to make ourselves look like we know what we’re talking about. And to that I say, ‘Look, we don’t know that, we wouldn’t want to do that, I couldn’t imagine a time in my life where it’s that important for me to look that way to people.’

So there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that when it comes out on TV it’s presumed that we knew who was being drafted because we saw it on Twitter or because the tape has been called up so quickly. Well, it’s very hard work by the people behind the scenes to do that, make it look so simple.

AA: So you literally couldn’t tip picks if you wanted to? 

RE: No but the information is out there. There were a couple times in the last two years where there were [presentations on stage] and the commissioner had three draft picks at the podium to announce. We were four teams off, which means there were three other picks that had been announced on Twitter essentially by reporters. And it makes us look like we’re behind the times. Twitter is a far more immediate method of reporting than television for the draft now. Far more, which is why the league has requested that NFL Network and ESPN and any television partner of the NFL cease and desist of having their information people tweet out. Because it undercuts the draft as a television product.

It may sound very antiquated. It’s the only time I’m not on social media, but I do it on purpose because I’m hosting a draft and I want to be in the same shoes as most people until there’s a time when most people aren’t in those shoes. Then I’ll be in their shoes and looking at it on Twitter also. But that means there should be less suspense. At that point they might as well have an encrypted website and have each team point and click their draft choice and be done with it in four hours. They could do that if they wanted to.

AA: Is this the toughest assignment you have? It seems like a sports broadcasting marathon….

RE: Nothing comes close to this in terms of a challenge, in terms of preparation, in terms of execution, in terms of the largeness of the event. Nothing comes close to this. Nothing.

About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at theScore.com, a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at CBSSports.com, Deadspin, FoxSports.com, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Comeback Media, but his day gig has him covering the NFL nationally for Bleacher Report.

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