Aside from brief infatuations with “American Idol,” “Survivor,” or “The Amazing Race” over a decade ago, reality television has never really been my thing.
Unless that is, you put the NFL Draft under that umbrella. In that case, I enjoy reality TV a whole lot.
It is an argument that can certainly be validated. For a league that branded itself partially on bone-crushing hits and physicality for decades, this event is about as dressed-up and soap opera esque as things get, completely driven by media consumption.
Still, for as much as its haters claim it’s dragged out and overhyped, there’s something uniquely special about a name scribbled on a card possibly determining the direction of a franchise and then hanging on every syllable of for years Paul Tagliabue and now Roger Goodell as the pick is read.
I love the NFL Draft. I’ve loved it since I was a young child. I could ramble about random draft memories all day, but no one cares. Here’s just two quick anecdotes to demonstrate what I’m talking about before I get in to why I am really writing this post.
It was April 29, 2006. This was back in the old-school format of the draft when the first round started at noon on a Saturday and took almost seven hours to complete (I kinda miss that style to be honest). Typically when I was in 9th grade, Saturday afternoons were spent playing wiffle ball, basketball, or capture the flag. We had a group of 10 or so people all pretty close in age who lived only a few minutes apart and would round everyone up and get a game going.
A few of my friends knocked on my door a little before noon on this particular morning, and the conversation went something like this.
“You wanna play something?”
“Can’t today, sorry guys. NFL Draft is on.”
“Well, when will it be over? Can you play in a couple hours?”
“Nope, sorry. It goes all day.”
“Wait, why are you wrapped in a blanket when it’s 65 degrees?”
“Because you rang the bell and answering the door without pants on would have been weird.”
“Why aren’t you wearing pants?”
“Because I’m gonna spend the next 12 hours in front of the TV watching the draft.”
“Alright, cya in school on Monday. And you should probably put pants on.”
“You got it, cya soon.”
Now, fast forward to 2008. The weekend of the draft also coincided with my junior class trip. I had committed to going on the trip but hadn’t missed watching the draft live in years. This was before smartphones had gone really mainstream, so I set up a system with my friend Tarbell from home. He too loved the draft and said he would text every few picks to keep me updated.
“You ready to go?” I texted him about five minutes before the Dolphins were on the clock with the first pick.
“Been wearing Eagles shit all day and just flew through my neighborhood to get home. Let’s do it.”
Word had spread that I was doing this, and a few different times, kids who I went to school with but hardly ever spoke to asked me about the latest update. An assistant principal even wanted to know a few picks at one point. Later that night, as my friends and I were about to get on a roller coaster in Busch Gardens, the Eagles took DeSean Jackson in the second round. If that’s not some type of metaphor, I’m not sure what is.
I didn’t watch one pick on TV that weekend but still felt as if I was all caught up. Thanks, buddy. This also led to my family switching over to unlimited texting because I came close to exceeding the monthly limit in one day.
I had told myself many years prior that one day I would get to New York and see a draft in person, but that was obviously easier said than done.
It is now April 23, 2011. Another draft is less than a week away, and on a Philadelphia sports blog that regularly read, I stumbled upon a contest to win tickets.
I submitted the form without thinking much of it and continued on with my weekend. The next part of this story might be about as #college as things get.
It was the final week of classes at Penn State, and I had to deliver a speech in my CAS 100 class that Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. Some people will do everything possible to avoid an 8 a.m. class, but I never minded getting up early too much and figured it’d be good practice for my summer job.
My next class wasn’t until 4 p.m., so typically I would stay up until 3 a.m. or so Monday night, wake up for class, and then I would have a few hours to nap if needed. This was before Onward State happened, and sleep was still an option most of the time.
Not on this Monday night though. On this Monday night, similar to my two other speeches earlier in the semester, it was 10:30 p.m. and I had yet to even really start. Part of it was natural procrastination, but I also enjoyed the adrenaline rush from writing and rehearsing a speech under a tight deadline.
Pulling an all-nighter for an assignment like this wasn’t the best plan, but I had essentially done it two times before and knew I could do it one final time. I wasn’t the best public speaker in the class — far from it — but I knew how to go about it and was pulling off A minuses while some kids were struggling just to stay above the C range.
My professor was a graduate student. She was cool and could relate to the busy lives that a lot of us lived, but she was also pretty demanding. On speech days, presenters were required to wear a suit. If you rolled out of bed and gave your speech in a hoodie and sweatpants, you were getting docked at least a letter grade and maybe more.
After being up all night, I showered, put on my suit, walked to class, and gave my speech. I killed it, but once I sat down, the second wind of energy began to wear off. I was ready to crash.
Back in my room once class ended, I did exactly that. I hung the suit jacket up, tossed the pants somewhere, and collapsed onto my bed with no intentions of waking up for at least four hours.
Two hours into what I hoped would be a prolonged nap, I stirred and decided to check my phone before trying to go back to sleep. There were a few run-of-the-mill text messages but nothing that seemed to warrant an immediate response.
The most recent one was from my friend Kevin who lived about 15 minutes from me back home. He attended a different high school, but we had become good friends in college through some mutual people. His text read:
“HOLY SHIT! YOU WON THE CROSSING BROAD CONTEST!”
That’s cool, I thought to myself while placing the phone down and subsequently my head a few seconds later. Probably won some T-shirt or something, too out of it to realize what he was actually talking about.
I thankfully woke up 20 minutes later and again saw the message. Wait a minute. Contest, I entered a contest the other day. I grabbed my laptop as fast as I could. Sure enough, there it was:
An email offering me free VIP NFL Draft tickets had been in my inbox for a few hours already, and I was passed out cold the entire time.
The tickets were mine, and a GMC representative would be waiting outside Radio City Music Hall Thursday night, but if I wasn’t able to attend, I had to let them know so they could offer them to someone else.
I touched base with Crossing Broad editor Kyle Scott, asking if he could give me until 4 p.m. to sort things out. He said that was fine, and now came the hard part of figuring out how to get from State College to New York. My car was four hours away at home, but I knew Kevin had a car and was as obsessed with the draft as me.
“DUDE, YOU GOT A CAR HERE. I HAVE TWO TICKETS. DO YOU WANT TO GO?”
“I HAVE AN [EXPLETIVE] EXAM FRIDAY MORNING AT 8 A.M.”
Dammit. My next plan was to ask my freshman year roommate Alex who I was also going to live with the coming fall. He initially said yes and then backed out a few minutes later after thinking about it more and looking at the rest of his week.
It’s not easy to get people to leave campus towards the end of the semester. Between studying for finals less than a week away and enjoying the last few days in State College, there’s a lot going on. In this instance though, none of that mattered to me. I’d prepare for finals when I was back on Saturday and Sunday. Movin’ On just wasn’t my thing. No disrespect to the people who work hard to make it happen, but I never went to one of them in my four years. (If that makes me a bad Penn Stater, someone let me know)
At that point, I began to worry a little and called my dad, half to tell him that I won the tickets, half to see if maybe he would want to go. My dad wasn’t a huge draft guy though aside from maybe tuning in when the Eagles were on the clock. He used to think I was nuts for watching as long as I did, jokingly calling it the “NFL Geek Show.”
He said that he really wasn’t interested but to call him back if I got real desperate. Before I had my license — and even after — my dad had taken me to so many baseball games. I couldn’t drag him to this if he didn’t want to go.
By that time, I had posted on social media about winning the tickets and received a congratulatory text from Ryan Beckler. Over the next two years, Ryan would become my best friend working together for Onward State, but at that time, we were more acquaintances who occasionally did homework together or texted about sports.
I honestly can’t remember if I called him or responded to the text but either way pretty much conveyed, Do you want to go? i have free tickets but need a way to get there.
He told me he’d have an answer in half an hour. If he said no, I had no idea what my next move would be. Luckily, I didn’t need one. Ryan was in, and on Thursday around 1 p.m,, we were off.
Details about the ride are hazy for me. All I distinctively recall is rush hour traffic getting the better of us as we got close. Originally hoping to arrive around 5:15 p.m, it was well past 6:30 by the time we found a parking garage. Once we realized we would be way later than anticipated, we got in touch with the GMC person who would be waiting for us outside. Carrying nothing but the printed email saying we had won the tickets, we walked towards the entrance of Radio City Music Hall when a security person stopped us.
“Where you guys supposed to be?” he said. I showed him the email, and just as he glanced over it, some woman appeared and recognized us from the descriptions we previously gave.
“They’re good. They’re with me,” she said, whisking us away into some fancy elevator and handing us our credentials. We got out, walked through some sort of cocktail party, past a room where chefs were laying out food, and bam, there it was. After all that, we made it.
For the Eagles, the draft was a complete dumpster fire. Only Jason Kelce, Alex Henery, Casey Matthews, and Julian Vandervelde remain three years later, and you can make an argument that three of those players shouldn’t be on the current team. It was worse than 2010, which was pretty underwhelming itself, and one of the final nails in the coffin of the Andy Reid regime that ended 20 months later, but for someone who had never been, it was a blast.
What an unforgettable five hours. Upon returning to State College, I wrote about the experience which will be posted below.
I’m not a huge fan of the way I wrote this but other than one or two grammar tweaks, it appears just as it did a few years ago, and the message encouraging people to go to the draft hasn’t changed.
One caveat: Someone should slap me across the face for saying I didn’t like Cam Newton. What an exciting player to watch.
Merry Christmas, Mel Kiper and Todd McShay.
Here’s the post as promised:
Ninety seven dollars, 24 hours, and 10 plates of free food later, I’m back from the first round of the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. I could use this space to give you my amateur analysis of the first 32 picks:
I don’t like Cam Newton.
Patrick Peterson will be a stud.
Christian Ponder was a major reach for the Vikings.
The Lions defensive line is flat out scary with Suh and Nick Fairley.
I wanted Prince Amukamara in midnight green, and the Giants stole him from me.
But I don’t think that’s what anyone really wants to read about, nor is that what last week was really about.
I have loved the NFL Draft since I was old enough to understand football. My first real draft memory is being a wide eyed 8- year old kid sitting in front of the television with my dad watching Eagles fans boo Donovan McNabb. When I was lucky enough to win these tickets through GMC, I knew that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Class on Friday? Three finals next week? $4.00 for a gallon of gas? Screw it. Nothing was stopping me from getting to New York City, and that is what I’ll most remember: Being there and seeing fans of 32 NFL teams (I think the Bills still have fans right?) come together.
I’ll remember watching in awe as my friend Ryan Beckler navigated NYC roads the way Roy Halladay goes through an opposing lineup making sure no amount of Lincoln Tunnel traffic or NYC taxi drivers were stopping us from picking up our VIP passes. “I don’t think we’re in State College anymore.”
I’ll remember meeting Von Miller’s father outside and the “Fuck You Maclin’s” I got from Giants fans walking up to the entrance. For the record, I was wearing a DeSean Jackson jersey, but I’ll give Giants fans the benefit of the doubt that they can indeed read, and were simply trying to forget this:
I’ll also remember the people who I spent the night around — A mix of hard core football fans and high-up GMC corporate people. From the gentleman to my left who knew exactly what teams were thinking and could break down Muhammad Wilkerson’s Temple career better than most Jets fans to the couple to my right who didn’t know the difference between Kevin Kolb and Kentucky prospect Randall Cobb but were two of the friendliest people anyone will ever meet.
In a GMC gift bag, a radio was provided to listen to the ESPN and NFL Network guys, but this was not a night to hear analysis. This was a night to soak everything in.
As any of my friends will tell you, I have a really good memory, so I may remember 10 years from now that the 49ers took Aldon Smith from Missouri with the 7th pick, but I’ll more remember sitting 20 feet away from the ESPN set and getting Jon Gruden to acknowledge us after chanting his name (Mel wouldn’t budge).
I’ve watched football games at The Vet, The Linc, and Beaver Stadium which are three of the best atmospheres in the country to watch a game (If anyone wants to take me to an Eagles game next year I’m 5-1, and the only loss was the meaningless Week 17 game against the Cowboys last year — Just throwing it out there). I saw Peter Forsberg score his first goal as a Flyer, Allen Iverson win a game against the Wizards on a fast break steal, and several significant Phillies games, but Thursday night will always be one of my favorite memories as a sports fan.
If you’re young enough where you can still drop everything for a day, make sure to attend a draft. Forget the free steak kebabs and rolls. Just find a way to go. If you’re older, take your kids and let them share the memory with you.
I’m not preaching being financially irresponsible, but this an event all NFL fans should experience even if it puts a slight dent in your wallet.