On Thursday, April 28 the NFL Draft will officially be underway from Draft Town in Chicago. I will be there in person, ready to document the twists and turns as I have every season since the Telesco/McCoy era began for the San Diego Chargers in 2013.
There are always great stories to tell for the most casual fan who attends the Draft. The NFL goes out of it’s way to make this three-day weekend a spectacle. They make the stars and legends of the game up front and center and you don’t need a front row seat to meet them.
Personally, I remember the deafening roar of the crowd when the Chargers drafted Manti Te’o. Hot on the heels of the catfish scandal, the roar was half-mocking and half-surprised but it was undoubtedly the loudest roar of draft weekend.
I was fortunate enough to be at the bottom of the stage (with Boltblitz owner and fearless leader Dave ‘BoogaP’ Peters) when the Chargers announced the selection of Jason Verrett in 2014. Verrett, smiling from ear to ear, walked down the steps at the side of the stage. As he reached the bottom of the steps where myself and a handful of other Chargers fans waited he saw me in my powder blue Rivers jersey cheering for him. Verrett walked over and hugged me. I can always say I was the first person aside from the Commissioner to give Jason Verrett his first post-draft hug.
Speaking of the Commissioner, i’ve been able to meet and take photos with Roger Goodell every year. The Commish makes the rounds walking amongst the fans shaking every hand and signing every autograph he can in the time he is allowed. For all the heat he gets (especially when he takes the stage to announce the beginning of the draft festivities and every draft pick for the rest of the first round) he is unflappable, undaunted.
Upon meeting the Commish at the draft last year I told him, “On behalf of Chargers fans everywhere, we want the team to stay in San Diego. Don’t let them move.”
“I’ll do what I can.” was his response to me. Looks like he’s held up his end of the deal so far. The rest is up to the voting public in San Diego County.
As you’ve seen on TV, the Draft is the center of the football universe. You can’t walk down the street without running into a taping of Sportscenter, NFL Network or related program. Running into current NFL stars is easy, the hard part will be recognizing them out of uniform. Vendors troll the streets with free merchandise in tow.
Last season, I ended up in an elevator with the very relieved father of Randy Gregory. Gregory had just been drafted just hours earlier. At the hotel hosting the players I ran into Melvin Gordon three times. He was still showing the same thousand-watt smile he sported on the draft stage and was still sporting the same Chargers lid at 11 p.m. at night.
It was very easy to walk around and get the full draft experience. Everything is centrally located in Chicago in the Draft Town area in downtown Chicago. Almost all the players, coaches and talking heads you see on TV are there for the party as well and we’re all invited to partake.
I sat at a table in a hotel where Chargers great Courtney Hall told tales of his time with the team. I had an interesting chat with former Eagles and Chargers All-Pro Jon Runyan about the potential move to L.A. and how he was enjoying being a politician. Runyan was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (NJ) from January 2011 to January 2015.
Those are just a handful of the many experiences I’ve already enjoyed after three consecutive years of attending the NFL Draft. This will be my fourth year in attendance and I’m excited to see what this year brings. It will never be easier for a sports fan of any major American sports league to rub elbows and talk shop with the guys you see wearing your team’s colors, calling your team’s games or braking down your team’s play than it will be at the NFL Draft.
And did I mention that it costs you nothing to attend? The NFL is selling tickets to the combine now! Take advantage of a rare free opportunity before that changes too!
If you’re a diehard NFL fan, this should be a bucket list item. You won’t regret it!
The Greg One