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Hold your horses: Draft gives extremist fans hope

This is where reality detaches itself from lunacy. Where anyone named Quinn might as well be that medicine woman.

Where a football fix for most is watching the greyhounds race from Florida and wondering if all those poor dogs are running from Michael Vick. Where the massive television screen on the wall — and most others around it — is set to the sport of kings and not a circus of rumors.

Where a guy like Will Chiles might seem out of place but symbolizes the kind of untainted obsession that has been misplaced as the NFL Draft grew from annual occurrence to extraordinary spectacle.

It is early Saturday — about 25 minutes before the Oakland Raiders forever jinx JaMarcus Russell by making him part of their woeful franchise — and the sports book at Red Rock is bare but for a few scanning the betting options of races across the country. It’s opening day at Churchill Downs. Aqueduct is running. So are Pimlico and Hollywood Park and others.

Chiles sits in the back and wears a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey and hat. He has spread several draft previews across the table in front of him, and his personal TV monitor is set to Mel Kiper’s humorless mug. Chiles was born and raised in Cleveland and yet realized early he rather would cheer for the Steelers, which is like the CEO of Apple purchasing a Dell desktop.

“I said at a very young age that I wanted to see a Super Bowl champion before I died,” said Chiles, a local personal trainer who turns 40 next week. “I knew I wouldn’t see one in Cleveland — I’ll be in the ground before the Browns get a ring — so I began rooting for the Steelers. I’ve been pretty satisfied with my choice.”

There is no better off-season remedy for addicted football fans than the draft and no bigger waste of print and air space than the weeks of projections and conjecture ejected from those with no more a clue of what might happen than a fan like Chiles.

The race has become ridiculous among all levels of media to forecast the potential of players yet to wear NFL uniforms, hilarious in the way that most of those professing expertise are regurgitating information they read or hear elsewhere. If you think mock drafts are a silly compilation of guesswork, wait until all those post-draft grades are assigned Monday. Talk about a joke.

But the extremists demand to be fed, and you can’t deny the draft’s impact on the most impassioned fans. Seemingly none besides Chiles are at Red Rock. At one point, 69 of 82 personal monitors are tuned to racing. One patron is watching the Cartoon Network and another a movie with Chris Rock and another that enduring classic, “Grumpier Old Men.”

But that doesn’t stop Chiles from constructing his tiny war room. He could have watched the draft from a crowded sports book on The Strip. He could have squeezed his way into a mass of jerseys at ESPN Zone. But he chose the serenity of a local atmosphere, intent on willing his Steelers into making the choice he deems most intelligent.

“I wish I remembered my cell phone so I could call Pittsburgh and tell them to take Ryan Kalil, the center from USC,” Chiles said. “We really need a center. But we’re the Steelers, which means we will take a linebacker.”

Three hours later, Pittsburgh makes its pick: Lawrence Timmons, Florida State. Linebacker.

“Great choice, great choice,” said Chiles, who paced around his small cubicle awaiting the selection. “We really need a linebacker.”

You figure had the Steelers chosen an elephant, they would have needed one of those, too. This is a guy who purchased a replica Super Bowl XL ring and had the following inscribed: To Will, from JB.

As in Jerome Bettis.

As in … WOW.

And yet this is the essence of the draft, of what makes it so special, of what has been lost in the hype, one animated fan completely engrossed in how his favorite team can better itself, indifferent to the fact the loudest cheer around him all day comes when someone across the room hits a double at Aqueduct.

You should know Chiles is a nut when it comes to drafting. He is proud owner of an Internet World Wrestling Entertainment team and used his first overall pick this year on the Undertaker. He assures me it beats last year, when his first selection was Hulk Hogan.

“I should be shot for that one,” Chiles said. “He only wrestled once … I really wish I would have remembered my laptop today so I could have made my own NFL picks as the teams were making theirs.

“I’m not Mel Kiper, but I hold my own.”

A guy like this is the NFL Draft.

At least before it became a circus.

Ed Graney’s column is published Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. He can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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