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The comments from ESPN executive Seth Markman certainly caused a stir over the weekend with the sports world’s focus on the NFL Draft. Markman boldly said that Kiper should one day be enshrined in Canton because of the impact he has had on the sport and making the draft an institution. Aside from the obvious fact that we all want to see a bronze bust of Kiper’s immaculate hair, does he have a worthy case?
Let’s start with this – there will always be resistance from inside the NFL to Kiper’s fame because he’s never made a pick for a team or held down a job in a front office. Look no further than his famous feud with former Colts GM Bill Tobin at the 1994 NFL Draft. No less than Bill Parcells said Kiper created a “cottage industry for himself.” As far as questioning the accuracy of Kiper’s evaluations, Jimmy Clausen certainly comes to mind and you can go to almost any website and find a list of Kiper’s biggest misses. Of course, Kiper has got a lot right over the years too, so let the first GM or draft analyst with a perfect record cast the first stone.
Kiper’s contributions to the game go so much more beyond his big board though. Just take a look at what the NFL Draft was his first year in 1984 compared to what it is now. In the mid-80’s, it was as niche as niche could be. This year over 54 million people watched the draft this year with an average audience for all seven rounds at over 6 million viewers. And the NFL has turned the event into their own celebration of football festival touring the country with music, celebrities, and over 300,000 people in attendance.
Does that incredible growth happen without Mel Kiper Jr.? Perhaps it’s a case of right place, right time as Kiper came to ESPN right as the network was preparing to become the worldwide leader in sports and the NFL was becoming the king of television. But there’s no way it becomes a 24/7/365 industry without Kiper’s presence. He didn’t just create an industry for himself, he created an industry for hundreds if not thousands who cover the draft year-round.
What Kiper did was take his passion for the draft and make it America’s passion. He is as synonymous with the NFL Draft as Dick Vitale is with college basketball. And there’s no question that his contributions to the NFL go well beyond what anyone thought possible 40 years ago and will last for way more than 40 years after he’s gone. For that reason, Canton could and should come calling his name.