Midway through the afternoon, the first round of Saturday's NFL draft was on pace to last more than six hours, shattering the previous record of 5:48. At that rate, the Bills wouldn't make their first pick -- No. 55 overall -- until minicamp. I'm not sure it took that long to pick the Pope. No one, not even the most hopeless draft geek, should be subjected to that much Mel Kiper.
Panic began to set in. Maybe Tom Donahoe wasn't even in the building. Could it be that Donahoe, the king of the draft-day splash, had gone vanilla this year? Maybe he'd slept in to be sharp for the later rounds. Donahoe is a big basketball fan. Perhaps he had stayed home to watch the NBA playoffs on television.
"Can we have physical evidence that Donahoe is actually here?" I asked a member of the Bills' PR staff, desperate for news of any kind.
"You'll find out in about 45 minutes," he replied, setting up for an imminent news conference.
Shortly after 4 p.m., Donahoe and the team's brain trust, including owner Ralph Wilson, emerged from the office with J.P. Losman in tow. You've heard of mock drafts. The Bills held a mock introduction of Losman, Buffalo jersey and all. This was their way of reminding us, yet again, that they did have a first-round pick this season: Losman.
It was a nice way to break up the day, but not quite what we were waiting for. After four excruciating hours and one romp through the buffet line, the media was desperate for a legitimate bit of news. Please, trade Travis Henry. Trade him for a backup long snapper, a blocking sled or a fax machine, but make a move. Give us something to analyze.
Late in the interminable first round, I had two main observations, and neither had to do with players who had been selected. One, I can't believe Bills fans really held parties for this. Two, I can't believe Auburn had four players taken in the first 25, finished unbeaten and didn't play in the national title game. Playoff system, anyone?
"Tom," I pleaded after the Losman show ended, "any word on trading Travis?"
"To quote an old line from Chuck Noll," Donahoe said with a smile, "the bobber's still in the water."
Well, at 5:15, Arizona still needed a running back. Presumably, the Cardinals were still willing to swap left tackle L.J. Shelton for Henry and Donahoe was holding out for more. The Eagles were still a potential suitor for Henry. The bobber was in the water, and Donahoe was waiting for someone to bite. The question was whether he might wait too long.
Henry should be out of town by the end of this weekend. Donahoe says Henry is under contract and might still be in Buffalo come training camp. But Donahoe can't really believe that's in the best interests of his football team. He can wait for a team to lose a running back to injury in training camp, but that's a risky game to play.
The draft picked up speed (relatively speaking) later in the first round. It ended at exactly 6 p.m., when the Patriots grabbed offensive guard Logan Mankins of Fresno State. Mankins wasn't projected as a first-round pick, but who is going to question the Pats these days? They could draft Logan Airport and people would call it genius.
The first round lasted 5:47, one minute off the record and only slightly longer than one of Ralph Wilson's halftime speeches. Our long day's journey into night continued as the second round began with no word on a Henry trade. By now, all the ESPN analysts sounded like frenzied sea gulls. A draft party was starting to sound pretty good to me.
Teams were limited to 10 minutes for a pick in Round Two, as opposed to 15 in the first round. It's still a death march. At 6:50, the Saints were on the clock with the 40th pick. There were still 15 picks remaining until Buffalo's first choice at No. 55. It occurred to me that I might wait nine hours for the Bills to select someone I've never heard of.
I'll confess. At 7 p.m., for inspiration, I ran to the Big Tree Inn and stood next to Thurman Thomas' framed jersey for 10 minutes. I wonder what Thomas was thinking Saturday when he saw Aaron Rodgers drop like a bad tech stock in the first round. Maybe ol' Thurm fell asleep, as he did when he dropped into the second round in 1988.
So much for the Arizona deal. The Cardinals took a running back, J.J. Arrington of California, with the 44th pick. There had been speculation the Bills would swap second-round picks with Arizona in a Henry deal. Cards coach Denny Green says he made another offer for Henry on Saturday, but apparently it wasn't enough.
At 8 p.m., the Bills still hadn't made a pick, and they hadn't traded Henry. The Rockets were pulling away from the Mavericks in the NBA playoffs. With the 51st pick, Green Bay took Nick Collins from Bethune-Cookman. I wasn't aware Bethune-Cookman had a football team.
The Bills made their first pick at 8:29 p.m. They were expected to go for a big man, an offensive lineman or defensive tackle. So Donahoe went small instead, taking Roscoe Parrish, a 5-foot-9 3/4 receiver from Miami, Fla. Naturally, coach Mike Mularkey assured us the pick was no reflection on Josh Reed.
Tom Modrak, the Bills' assistant GM, described Parrish as fast, competitive and a good kid. It's reassuring to know they didn't wait eight hours to pick some lazy thug. Modrak admitted the long wait had tried his patience.
"I've never been in that situation before," Modrak said. "How did you guys hold up?"
No one knew what to say. For one thing, the day wasn't over.