It all began the night of the draft. Before teams made their opening-round picks Thursday night, I hung out on the red carpet and got get my first taste of the excitement and energy of the draft. I set up on the photographer’s deck at the player’s entrance. I was in front of a pyramid of 32 caps, one for each NFL team. Each cap was in a clear custom case and carried down the red carpet by a selected season ticket holder.
Once inside Chicago’s Auditorium Theater, video tributes to music icon Prince and former Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning were shown on the big screen. It was a very casual atmosphere waiting for the first pick, but tension built as Commissioner Roger Goodell arrived. There was a chorus of boos for Goodell, and it continued all night.
When a team was on the clock for its choice, the big screen on the stage showed highlights from the previous season, recent first round draft selections, key offseason roster changes, and the team’s first four opponents of this upcoming season. After California quarterback Jared Goff was picked first by the Los Angeles Rams, a Cal logo filled the screen, followed by highlights of Goff in college. This continued all night for each team.
My final interview of the night was with former Mississippi defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche. He was the 30th pick and taken by the Arizona Cardinals. I asked about being in the same division with the No. 1 overall pick and he replied, “I’ll go get after him!”
I returned to the draft on Friday night and walked through the fan experience called Draft Town. Large helmets and posters of all 32 teams lined the street. There was a 40-yard dash competition, where fans raced against a virtual image of famous NFL players. There were also model locker rooms, giving fans a special experience.
Looking back at the experience, I realize the auditorium might have been lively when the picks were announced but it wasn’t where to find the best action. That distinction belonged to the interview room and Selection Square. Seeing it all up close, these two places were where the real drama was, and made for a really cool experience.
Photos: Alan Cole