As many of you know, I was lucky enough to attend the recent NFL Draft. After having had some time to reflect on the entire experience, I can only conclude that it met and/or exceeded every expectation I may have had. Truly, this was a special thing for me. As such, I thought you might be interested in getting a closer look at the proceedings and some of the differences between what you see on TV and what's actually going on at Radio City.
There's tons more AFTER the jump...
The first thing that hits you is the sheer volume of humanity that participates in the event. I cannot say this emphatically enough - it is wall-to-wall people. From the moment you come within earshot of the raucous fans lined up outside, in the rain, who want a shot at the general admission tickets, to the time when you actually make your way through the door to the main lobby. It's a claustrophobic's worst nightmare.
Now, New Yorkers have a bad rap because of their directness and what can be perceived as abruptness. Having spent many a summer in Manhattan while growing up, I can say with the utmost assuredness, that their reputation is...well-deserved. The difference is that I have grown to develop an appreciation for those qualities and see them as minor regional differences in style and approach. But here, for this three-day event, it's more like Mardi Gras. New York fans welcome, with open arms, characters from all points on the globe. I met fans who came to see this event from Europe, Asia and South America. Yes, fans from all over come here to renew their hopes and dreams that their 6th round draft pick will become the next Tom Brady. While there may be a lack of common sense, there is certainly no shortage of fervor amongst the faithful.
There were reminders all around us that there is one reason, and one reason alone, that these future young warriors will gather on the gridiron and attempt to exert their will over their opponents. All in search of the bling. I was personally awestruck at the display of the Super Bowl rings from previous champions. I could not help but be taken back to my youth as I looked at Dallas' rings. Visions of Golden Richards catching that pass from Roger Staubach. Replaying each of the nine turnovers against the Bills. All at once, I am proud and somewhat melancholy as I long for days of glory to return. Funny thing though, no matter how hard I looked, I couldn't find one with the Philadelphia Eagles' name on it. Strange, eh?
One thing I was surprised by was just how much of a lag there was between the actual picks being made and when they were announced. At one point, there had been three picks made in round 1 (cards sent up but not announced to anyone in the building much less the TV audience) and both the NFL Network and ESPN crews refused to make mention of the teams having made those picks. The Radio City audience knew that because there were two large digital timers on each side of the stage, which I think may not have been shown on TV because they were close to the screen that was broadcasting the TV feed. They showed which pick number was on the clock at any one time. I think that there was some conversational value in how fast certain teams made picks because it suggested (to me, anyway) that either their guy, or a guy they were ecstatic to find, had fallen to them. To me, they missed the boat here and it could have really accelerated the pace of the telecasts. I think you can see the timer pretty well in this shot.
The really unique part of my NFL Draft experience was prior to the start of Day 2's proceedings. I got a chance to go behind the scenes and meet some very interesting people. The highlight was being able to get onto the main floor and see where all the action happens up close and personal. At the Cowboys' table, like every other, they get M&M's in team colors. I (accidentally) sneezed into the Philly jar.
Another thing that struck me upon seeing it for the first time, is the scale of the "green room", which is essentially the area behind the stage and extends from one end of the hall to the other. There were at least 20 tables, tons of flat screen TV's and plenty of room for food and drink. At the same time, it's easy to see how that could become one heckuva lonely place for the guy who falls precipitously during the draft.
One of the greatest things to happen to me while I was in the building was getting the chance to hang out with some of the NFL alumni who came to the draft. Chad Hennings noticed my Primetime jersey, which I wore on day 2 in the hopes of seeing Deion and getting an autograph. The guy is still huge and it's a wonder he was able to cram himself into an attack helicopter. I envision Shaquille O'Neal stuffed into one of those new Fiat Abarth's. Meanwhile, though we never chatted, Strahan gave me a smile along with a thumbs down (again, presumably for my jersey choice) from twenty feet away and, finally, I got a chance to shake hands and say a few words to Terrell Davis, whose play I thoroughly enjoyed when he was in his prime.
Finally, I got to spend a little time listening to Jay Glazer, who is probably one of the top two or three most reliable NFL insiders. His perspective was very interesting and entertaining. I asked him a ton of questions and he was more than happy to spend some extra time with me. He's a very likeable guy all the way around and it comes as no surprise that GM's and Head Coaches feel comfortable telling him things they don't, or won't, tell others.
In the end, I can tell you that this was nothing short of the realization of a boyhood dream. Not only did I get a chance to be there for one of the most entertaining drafts ever, but the chance to go a little deeper and see things not everyone gets to see is something I won't soon forget. I'm glad to be able to share this all with you, my Cowboys brethren, and I hope you all get the chance to make the pilgrimage one day.