The NFL Draft is an annual event of biblical proportions and, in the end, a vindication of biblical wisdom.

First the biblical proportions. The annual spring event, which took place again this past weekend, is anticipated in the millions—6.8 million, more or less. That's the number of websites that discuss the "NFL Draft" in one way or another.

Or should the figure be 34 million—the number of viewers who this last weekend tuned into the 18 hours of coverage on ESPN and ESPN2? Mind you, this sporting event is not a sport. Nothing happens. It is the worst television imaginable: Man speaks from behind a podium for about 20 seconds. Leaves podium for 15 minutes, while three or four announcers, sitting behind a studio desk, analyze what the man from the podium just said. Then the man returns to the podium and the whole thing begins again. (Oh yes, and half a dozen commercials find their way into that 15-minute gap.) All this is viewed by a multitude of the television host?

But even 34 million is not biblically proportional enough, for many, many (millions?) more who never get around to watching the weekend event nonetheless speculate, argue, debate for weeks leading up to it. The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated run special sections the week before and the week after the draft. Websites like break down all previous drafts by position, colleges, year drafted, name, and so on and so forth. The Sporting News also annually publishes The Complete Football Draft Encyclopedia, a 704 page compendium of analysis, history, and more stats than grains of sand on the Sea of Galilee. And on it goes.

What's with these multitudes? In part, the interest has to do with the way the NFL Draft toys with, and eventually confirms in its own small way, biblical wisdom: "He who is last shall be first, and the first last."

When it comes to the order of the draft, the biblical principle rules: The last shall be first. In the 1930s, the Boston Redskins, New York Giants, and Chicago Bears simply outbid the other teams when they panted after a choice college prospect. And so the richest were first year after year. The draft was inaugurated in 1936 to bring parity, and was designed so that the last teams got the first pick of the best college players the following year, so that the last would not perpetually have to be last for ever and ever amen.

And the draft helps in that way many times, but usually only when it breaks with the biblical wisdom. The wise general manager seeks not the last but the strongest, the fastest, the mighty men of valor.

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And when a team can consistently pick a host of mighty men, Super Bowls are in the offing. The Pittsburgh Steelers have drafted more future Hall of Famers (15) than any other team. The team's banner year was 1974, when it picked four players who ended up in the Hall of Fame (Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, and Mike Webster). Add to that their 1972 pick of Franco Harris, their 1971 pick of Jack Ham, and 1970 picks of Mel Blount and Terry Bradshaw, and their 1969 pick of "Mean" Joe Greene (that's nine Hall of Fame picks in six drafts)—well, you can see why the Steelers were the team of the '70s.

Then in 1979, the formerly hapless San Francisco 49ers drafted Joe Montana. For the next 10 years, coach Bill Walsh managed to draft 16 players who would make a combined 57 Pro Bowl appearances, with the 49ers eventually winning four Super Bowls.

So on draft day, the first shall often be first.

But not always.

It turns out that the last (those chosen in the later rounds) are often first, one major reason the draft fascinates. Legendary quarterbacks Johnny Unitas, Roger Staubach, and Bart Starr were picked late in their drafts—102, 129, and 200 respectively—yet they turned out to be three of the greatest quarterbacks in football history. The lowest pick ever for a future Hall of Fame went to Roosevelt Brown in 1953. This Morgan State offensive tackle (who's ever heard of Morgan State?) was not nabbed until the 27th round and was the 321st pick overall. But he went on to have an outstanding career with the New York Giants manhandling defensive linemen.

And, to be sure, there is the other side of the proverb as well. The history of the draft is filled with examples of the first being last. Who today can remember that stellar number one pick of 1981, running back George Rogers, or 1964's wide receiver Dave Parks? Whether it's injury, drugs, death, or simply inability to adjust to the demands of the NFL, many seemingly mighty men end up begging for scraps in the dung heap of NFL history.

I think this paradox is one thing that keeps the multitudes hooked on the NFL Draft. There is something in our genetic code that rejoices when the last become first, and the first last. We admire the mighty men of valor, and rejoice in their great deeds. But deep inside we root for the second born to receive the father's blessing, the shepherd boy to become king, and for the god-forsaken Nazareth to produce something good.

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And so on draft day, we are thankful that the last (especially if it is our team) gets to pick first. And though many a scout seeks athletic signs and others look for football wisdom, we have the foolish hope that some in the last rounds may end up being first. For this foolishness can be wiser than an ESPN analysis, and apparent weakness (Can anything good come from Morgan State?) can be stronger than many an NFL defensive lineman.

Mark Galliis managing editor of Christianity Today.

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Galli's previous Play Ball columns include

Negotiating Sunday Sports | This culture war was lost long ago. Now what? (April 15, 2005)
The Prodigal Sports Fan | There is hope for the idolater. (April 08, 2005)
The Thirst of the 24/7 Fan | Understanding the idolatry in sports. (March 01, 2005)
March Madnesses | The layers of insanity know no end—thank God. (March. 18, 2005)
Spectating as a Spiritual Discipline | For those who have eyes to watch, let them watch something more than highlight films. (March 11, 2005)
The Grace of Sports | If Christ can't be found in sports, he can't be found the modern world. (March 4, 2005)
Baseball Isn't Entertainment | The sooner we stop thinking sports are about the spectators, the more enjoyable the games will be. (Feb. 25, 2005)
Rooting for T.O. | Why Terrell Owens irritates most of us most of the time. (Feb. 11, 2005)
Freedom Between the Goal Posts | Sports is much more important than our culture lets on (Feb. 4, 2005)
Salt and Light in the Arena | It's going to take more than a few good Christians to clean up sports. (Feb. 18, 2005)
Rooting for T.O. | Why Terrell Owens irritates most of us most of the time. (Feb.. 11, 2005)
Freedom Between the Goal Posts | Sports is much more important than our culture lets on (Feb. 4, 2005)

Play Ball
From 2005 to 2007, "Play Ball" examined the relationship of sports and faith: sports is important precisely because it is a form of play, that is, a manifestation of the Sabbath. Contributors included Mark Galli, Collin Hansen, Mark Moring, and others.
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