May 25, 2024

Greetings from the sports desk located somewhere below decks of the Good Pirate Ship RedState. Sammy the Shark and Karl the Kraken are preoccupied with their bubble hockey tournament, so it’s me doing the writing today.

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A little backdrop for today’s post. In April 1998, the Indianapolis Colts were coming off a dreadful 3-13 season. The only bright spot was it ensuring them the #1 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. Having traded starting quarterback Jim Harbaugh — yes, the same Jim Harbaugh who is now the Los Angeles Chargers head coach — in February 1998, the Colts’ main priority was finding a franchise quarterback. 

The draft offered two clear candidates for the job: Peyton Manning from Tennessee and Ryan Leaf from Washington State. Pundits and such believed both were can’t-miss NFL prospects, and the general perception was that no matter who the Colts drafted, the San Diego Chargers, who held the second selection in the 1998 draft, would be obtaining a franchise quarterback of their own.

Newly appointed Colts General Manager and Team President Bill Polian had to decide: Manning or Leaf? Conventional wisdom said either way would be acceptable, with Leaf enjoying a slight edge due to perceived superior arm strength over Manning. However, when it came to intangibles, Manning was the clear winner. 

While Leaf did everything he could to antagonize the Colts into not drafting him as he preferred spending his time in San Diego, Manning was a prepared professional from the first meeting with Indianapolis. You know the rest. The Colts drafted Manning, were a perpetual Super Bowl champion contender, and won it with Manning at quarterback in 2007. There is now a statue of Manning outside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, otherwise known as The House That Peyton Built. An oft-overlooked fact is that in the early 2000s, the Colts were seriously contemplating a move to Los Angeles

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They didn’t, and now Indianapolis is their forever home, largely thanks to drafting the right man for the job. As to Ryan Leaf … he was out of the NFL in four years, and there is no longer a San Diego Chargers.

Flash forward to 2024 and the annual WNBA draft, which will take place on April 15. The Indiana Fever, who in 2023 were, to put it politely, not very good, as they finished the season with a 13-27 record, will be drafting first. The Fever have been dreadful for years. 

How dreadful? Their 13 wins and .325 winning percentage last year were the team’s best since 2019. The Fever have not made the playoffs since 2016. No wonder they’re drafting first for the second year in a row.

However, unlike Polian in 1998, Fever President/COO Allison Barber and General Manager Lin Dunn are spending no endless days or sleepless nights mulling over who to select. The only question Indiana faces is how many people they’ll need to staff the Gainbridge Fieldhouse team store on April 16 when the doors open to make available jerseys presumably bearing the number 22 and unquestionably bearing the name Clark, as in Caitlin Clark.

We’ve written earlier on the force of nature that is Caitlin Clark. This level-headed, well-rounded young woman has made herself into one of the premier basketball players on the planet. The people have noticed Clark’s twin personalities of genial off the court and Godzilla on it; fans spend whatever it takes and travel whatever distance is required to see her play. Television ratings have followed suit. 

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On March 3, Clark set the all-time NCAA scoring record, passing the legendary Pistol Pete Maravich en route to leading her Iowa Hawkeyes to a 93-83 win over Ohio State. The game drew a million — million — more viewers than a rematch of the 2022 NBA championship series between the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics. It was the most-watched women’s college basketball game since 1999.


MOREWhy Caitlin Clark Is the Role Model Modern Girls Need


Advertisers are doubtless working overtime to make their case to Clark about why she should pitch their products, with her megawatt smile and wholesome good looks as guaranteed attention-getters. Nike is unsurprisingly already on board; one can safely assume Clark’s line of shoes will soon be sharing display space with Sabrina Ionsecu‘s existing footwear line. Even the WNBA will be hard-pressed to mess up this one.

The WNBA can also preemptively thank Clark for its next television contract. Currently, the league has an agreement with ESPN for multiple games, including the postseason, and one with the ION network for a Friday night game during the regular season. Both contracts expire in 2025. Should Clark do what she’s done for women’s college basketball for the WNBA, one suspects the asking price will increase greatly along with ticket demand for whenever the Fever are in town.

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It is fitting that Clark’s professional career will be in Indiana, where basketball truly is king even as football rules in Texas. Clark is a Midwest family values-based young woman, which should keep her in good stead as she transforms women’s basketball from a sport the self-appointed intelligentsia insist we should watch into one people genuinely want to watch for all the right reasons.

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