As I type this, I am 36,477 feet above the earth. I am watching Game 3 of the Wizards-Cavaliers series, because I am traveling on JetBlue Airways (at the moment, Washington is up 12 and Larry Hughes is making curious decisions with the basketball). The woman sitting next to me is watching "Law & Order," so she has not just been informed that the Houston Texans are not going to select Reggie Bush with the first pick of the NFL draft. I sense she does not care. However, I am completely and utterly stunned, mostly because I've suddenly realized that the culture of the NFL draft -- a culture I had never really noticed until this year -- has doomed the Texans to a fate that will turn them into version 2.0 of the New Orleans Saints.
Before I boarded this flight, I was talking (by phone) to a lawyer in North Dakota who I must now consider the federal prosecuting equivalent of Mel Kiper Jr. "The Texans will not take Bush," he said. "This is my prediction." The lawyer made this comment at 2:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon. At the time (and even now), the notion struck me as completely idiotic. I have only been alive for 33 years, but I've spent 25 of them watching football, and I have never seen a better college player than Reggie Bush. When Marcus Allen was a senior, he was awesome -- but Bush was more versatile. It's possible that Barry Sanders was better as a junior, but Oklahoma State was on probation that year, so they were never on TV; as such, I can't legitimately compare them. But I can't imagine how Sanders (or anyone else) could have been any more electrifying and unhittable than Bush. In fact, ESPN Classic just rebroadcast the USC-Fresno State game this very afternoon, and it seems wholly impossible that anyone could be better at running away from people than this particular human. Moreover, everyone alive seems to know this: not only have I never met a Reggie Bush skeptic, I've never met anyone who didn't consider Bush to be a transcendent superhuman. He possesses the kind of greatness that a child can see.
Yet the Texans have nonetheless convinced themselves that they will be better off selecting Mario Williams, the tall, speed-rushing defensive end from North Carolina State. I suspect Williams is potentially stellar. In time, he could be Pro Bowl caliber player. And the Texans' reasoning (I assume) is that (a) you build a team around defense and pass rushing; (b) they already have a decent running back; (c) Bush might be hyper-expensive; and (d) Reggie's parents appear to be living in a free house, which seems a tad sketchy. This is all fine and reasonable. The only problem is that Gary Kubiak has failed to weigh these points against the opposing argument, which is that REGGIE BUSH IS IMPOSSIBLE TO TACKLE. HE IS WAY, WAY BETTER THAN ALL OF THE OTHER DUDES WHO ARE ELIGIBLE TO BE DRAFTED. WHEN REGGIE BUSH IS RUNNING WITH THE FOOTBALL, THOSE ATTEMPTING TO KNOCK HIM TO THE GROUND CANNOT SEEM TO DO SO. THIS QUALITY IS ADVANTAGEOUS WITHIN THE GAME OF FOOTBALL, AS THAT IS PRETTY MUCH THE TOTALITY OF THE SPORT.
Obviously, this decision is wolf-face crazy. It's the kind of decision you make when you are drunk, and on cocaine, and on deadline, and on fire. It's going to define the future of the Houston franchise, and it will potentially wreck it (at least for a decade). But I think I know why they did it. I think I know why the Texans have consciously overlooked a reality that seemed to be universally understood: the NFL draft has grown into such a self-obsessed, metacommunicative monoculture that it actively perpetuates counter-intuitive logic. Pro football teams (and the media entities which cover it, including this one) have invested so much time and effort into analysis that smart people can no longer see what's abundantly obvious. The culture of the NFL draft insists that nothing is ever easy; it suggests that what you see with your eyes is always meaningless. It is no longer acceptable to pick a player because he's the best guy available -- general managers need to justify their picks through theoretical means that are akin to corporate-speak. The Texans talked themselves into picking an inferior player; they created reasonable, intellectual reasons to make a terrible move. And I realize Houston needs help on defense, but remember -- they had the first overall pick because they were the worst team in the league. They need everything. And while you can't get everything at once, the closest singular equivalent is usually the single-best force. But they took the wrong guy.
They took the wrong guy.
Chuck Klosterman is the author of "Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story" and is a senior writer for Spin magazine and columnist for Esquire. He will be writing for Page 2 once a month.