It’s kind of weird that Mina Kimes has never lived in Seattle.
The Los Angeles–based ESPN commentator may just be the most vocal Seahawks fan in sports media today. A Slate essay describes how her Seattle sports fandom has long kept her emotionally tethered her to her dad, an Air Force captain who grew up in the city. “We moved all the time, crisscrossing the country in the caravan whenever my father was reassigned. As a result, my only geographic allegiance was his hometown—Seattle.”
She totes this pride just below her right sleeve, where an “XLVIII” tattoo commemorates the city’s only Super Bowl triumph. You may have spotted her ink peeking out from one of her quarantine-casual T-shirts on recent episodes of Highly Questionable and Around the Horn, debate shows that now feature pundits remotely sparring from personal offices and living rooms around the country. But she is probably best known for the podcasts she hosts: ESPN’s news update, ESPN Daily, and The Mina Kimes Show Featuring Lenny, in which her dog also stars.
Both podcasts, like nearly all sports-starved programming of late, have covered the 2020 NFL draft extensively. The league held the annual selection of college players virtually this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, meaning we were privy to the opulent bowels of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones's yacht and Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury's best impression of the Parasite house. The home setups for Seahawks GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll were far less notable, but the team's first-round selection, Texas Tech linebacker Jordyn Brooks, raised eyebrows—or, in Kimes's case, sent her sprawling on a couch.
If it were someone other than a self-professed "psychotic" NFL fan, the reaction would have seemed overdramatic. Instead, it felt like the genuine brand of sports fanaticism that makes Kimes a beloved member of the "12s" and a veritable football geek. On Saturday morning, I asked Kimes to tap into some of that nerdiness to discuss Seattle's picks, its other off-season moves, and the prospects of an actual, you know, season.
We finally had a sports happening that wasn't, like, from 1998 to dissect: the virtual NFL Draft. What are your general thoughts on how it went off?
I think it was a wild success by any measure. Certainly the numbers bear that out. But also, the sentiment around it was really positive. You probably have heard a lot about the intimate feel of seeing all these players, GMs, coaches, in their homes, and I think people like that. But I think, more than anything, people liked the uncertainty of it all. We can air old games and docs...but what is missing is watching something and having absolutely no idea what's going to happen. It's an element of sports that people really crave, and it's something you do get with the draft even though it's not an actual sporting event. There was just some excitement from it that really drew people in, just that feeling of anything can happen with your team, and being surprised.
It certainly seemed like you were surprised by the Seahawks' first-round draft pick. Your reaction was pretty priceless. Now that some time has passed, what do you make of the Seahawks, first of all, taking somebody in the first round, and then the selection?
I guess that was a bigger upset, that they took someone instead of trading down. [Seattle had done so every year since 2011.] I don't even know why I was surprised. The Seahawks really go their own way when it comes to the draft—not just from the players that they take but where they take them, the positions they target. It's just endlessly unpredictable with that team, and it has been for years under John Schneider. So, I shouldn't have been surprised that it was surprising. In a way, that's the least surprising thing of all.
The pick itself, the most surprising aspect of it was the position just because, when we prepare for the draft, we look at these teams and try to weigh their positional needs, and I don't think anyone had off-ball linebacker high on the list of positions they expected Seattle to target early on. But I think they felt he was the most talented player on the board. While Brooks wasn't talked about a lot before the draft—I can't even think of a mock [draft] where I saw him being taken there—afterwards, you heard from a lot of teams that the Seahawks weren't alone in valuing him that way. So, it was surprising just because nobody thought they would go for that position at that point.
You're obviously in touch with different organizations, trying to get a sense of which way teams are leaning. What is it like to be told that a team is going to go in one direction and then, on draft day, for it to be a completely different position or player? Does that feel like a betrayal in any way?
[Laughs.] The reason why fans love the draft so much is because it brings that element of uncertainty [and] that's also something that affects organizations. The board never unfolds exactly how everyone predicts, especially this year. I would say, up until maybe like halfway through the first round, it was fairly predictable, with a little bit of variation. But around the middle of the first round, everybody's board kind of got scrambled a little bit. And that happens every year. The best-laid plans always go to waste, and unless you're talking to someone picking near the top, there's really no assurance that any team is going to do what they intend to do going into Thursday night.
Looking at the Seahawks' full haul [of picks], how do you rate it, and for how many of those guys—honestly—did you have a good sense of their performance as a player?
I really loved [second-round pick] Darrell Taylor. I've watched more of him than Brooks. And then that obviously—everybody assumed the Seahawks were going to target an edge rusher. I think a lot of the mocks had them taking an edge rusher in the first round because it's such an area of need for them with the uncertainty around [unsigned defensive end Jadeveon Clowney] and whether or not they're going to bring in a free agent. So, that was in some ways less surprising. The fact that they traded up [for the pick] was a little bit surprising just because he ended up costing them quite a bit. I think he's a phenomenal player though. He just looks like a missile on the field. And I think he'll see the field pretty early. It will be interesting to see how they work him into the rotation. So that was one where I had a lot of familiarity with him preparing for the draft.
[LSU offensive guard] Damien Lewis, who was the third pick, I have seen a lot of. I'm not going to lie and pretend like he stood out to me watching LSU. Usually with offensive linemen, I just talk to my friends who are actually offensive lineman or coach it and ask them what they think, and they were really high on him. I think that was reflected in Seahawks' actions afterwards, by the way, moving on from [center Justin] Britt and [offensive guard D.J.] Fluker. That doesn't mean Lewis is guaranteed to start Day One, but it sure, I think, conveys their confidence in him and his ability to get on the field pretty quickly.
As of right now, what do you make of the Clowney situation? What's your prediction for where he ends up landing?
Before the Britt and Fluker cuts, I would have said it really looks like that ship has sailed. But it sure feels like they're clearing [salary] cap space for something. Now I don't know if that necessarily means they're willing to give Jadeveon the contract he apparently desires. There's other options out there—Everson Griffen, for example. But I'd say after that, it seems like the Seahawks aren't out of the race for [Clowney], I suppose. His free agency has been so affected by the coronavirus pandemic. I think he is not in any rush to sign with the team, but the list of [buyers] has certainly dwindled. I'd say the Seahawks are in the mix, but I don't think it's more likely than not that they'll bring him back.
We're talking about all this off-season stuff, but there are so many questions surrounding the season itself. What is your prediction, at this point, for when a season might start and how it would actually work?
I have no idea, quite frankly. The NFL—they benefit from being the last mover here. They can see what the NBA and Major League Baseball do, and I think that they'll follow their lead in a lot of ways. If those leagues can come back, then I think it's definitely likely the NFL can as well. I will say I'm very skeptical that any sport is going to have events with fans in 2020. That, to me, seems like a stretch. But I do think the season is probably going to happen. But the NFL is just kind of third in line in deciding what to do.
What role do you think that can play in the country's recovery if they do come back without fans?
I was going to say, if they come back with fans, it's not necessarily a good role. It's interesting because sports has played such a strangely integral role in how all of this has unfolded. I don't think a lot of the country—and I include myself here—had woken up to the severity of the pandemic until the night that the news came out that Rudy Gobert was positive for the virus, and the NBA games were canceled and those crazy visuals came across our screens. That really drove home for a lot of us the scope of what we were dealing with. And by that same token, if sports come back safely—and a lot of that is going to be contingent on availability of testing, amongst other things, and the infrastructure around leagues—I think that will signal to a lot of people that the country has turned a corner as well.
If there was no NFL season, would you be OK?
Nah, I would be extremely bummed. Forget professionally, just as someone who loves football and looks forward to that Week One. I look forward to week one of the preseason. I look forward to training camps. I love football, and to not have it would just be such a disruption in my life. That said, it's all so secondary to containing this [virus] and protecting people, and I hope that everyone invested in bringing it back prioritizes that.
The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.