This time last year I had landed in Dallas, Tx.
A chance meeting with the NFL team in London the previous October had led to me ticking an item off my bucket list. For someone obsessed by College football the Draft is the point in the football calendar when College and NFL collide. The strategy of the week (& months in the lead up) for me outweighs all other factors of the draft. The trading up, down, sideways – everyone has a reasoned argument for why it was a great, terrible or mind boggling pick. I love it.
So this week I have been looking back. A little sad not to be in Nashville but now with a much better view of the show that the NFL puts on. I never got to go to Radio City in NYC, but moving the Draft around the country is genius.
Tickets for US citizens are free, but not yet freely open to non US citizens. Certainly with the huge interest in the game in the UK, this will change. Hopefully in time for Vegas 2020. Vegas, baby, Vegas.
As excitement builds I decided to rehash last years article. It’s as relevant today as it was a year ago. The moral of the story remains – If you get the chance to go to the NFL Draft…… GO!
Why you need to consider going to the 2019 Draft (or a day at the 2018 NFL Draft or How Texas likes to Party)
As UK NFL fans we are often told that a day at Wembley is like attending the Super Bowl. I’ve never been to the Super Bowl, nor likely to unless 6 numbers come up, but that statement always seems to run a little shallow with me.
The NFL Draft is no Super Bowl. Let’s be clear about that. But being in Arlington, Texas for Draft week, being in AT&T on Thursday night, seeing what kind of party the NFL holds on its own soil. Well that opened my eyes to a different world.
I’m not saying we are short changed. I’m not. The Wembley, Twickenham and I am sure the Tottenham experiences will be a pretty good day out. The NFL could do nothing in the lead up and leave us to our own devices. By which I am sure we would end up with all manner of tailgating parties (not such a bad thing). But they don’t and the Regent Street experience, the NFLUK Q&A’s, Player appearances, etc etc are pretty awesome days out, which even our transatlantic cousins lap up.
But Dallas threw a party. The Draft Experience was the size of twelve football pitches. It had different events on each day. Each of the TV and Radio networks broadcasting the Draft had their own stages outside from which they would broadcast around the clock. You were as likely to mosey on by Mooch Mariucci as you were Troy Aikman, Chris Mortenson, Mel Kiper or Lee Corso.
Journalists and analysts are everywhere and are the true rock stars of the show. We bumped into to Trey Wingo at our hotel and Adam Schefter at the airport. Mayock I’m sure was locked away in a darkened room finalising his famous mock draft which was infamously blown to smithereens by pick ten. Sorry Mike, it’s not like I did any better.
There was also a combine. I have never seen so many mid life crises in full flow as I did on the Saturday. I also witnessed my fair share of middle aged men on crutches which were being handed out like sweeties from the First Aid tent. For the record my 4.4 40, was my first three steps.
We watched the Rich Eisen Radio show from the Marriott stand. Eisen was every inch the gentleman you think he is afterwards as he shook hands with all those who waited. Straight after, on the same stand was a Q&A by Ladainian Tomlinson, to be followed by the God in Dallas called Emmitt Smith. It was fascinating stuff.
On the Tostitos stand the top draft picks were being interviewed by ESPN. Rosen had a lot to say and Sam Darnold came across as the sensible chap we all thought he was. Baker was at home making his own documentaries to be aired shortly on Facebook. He is either very clever or a very lucky Sooner.
There seemed to be a three line whip from the Cowboys that the Boys had to be there. Dak served soup from a food truck (in 80 degrees heat, it was a puzzling promo), Cole Beasley seemed happy to meet anyone who was happy to meet him. Sean Lee and Zak Martin were on hand to promote big Texas sized trucks and Ju Ju Smith Schuster (not a Cowboy but there anyways), attracted a long line of Steelers and USC fans. Go figure? The line to meet Big ol’ Texas boy Vince Young was as large as the lone star state itself. And of course no visit to Arlington is complete without the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. I will say no more on this politically charged subject. For the record Dez was nowhere to be seen, but now we know why.
You didn’t need to have a ticket to get into the Draft Experience. It was free to all. Once the draft started It was beamed on huge jumbotrons (of course what else in Jonesville) to all those not lucky enough to be entering the event. And for all the 200,000 who were said to be there on Thursday it didn’t appear manic busy. Something you can never level at Twickenham.
Of course here is the dilemma. Go inside and sample the atmosphere or hang outside and watch the draftees walk the red carpet and sample the glitz and glamour of the US of A at it’s finest.
There were bands playing on stages. Food and beer from all parts of the states, but TexMex Tacos and Lone Star beer were very popular (please read my food blog on another channel….).
My biggest concern was missing out on the excellent minute by minute narration provided by NBC and ESPN during the draft. That up to the minute information of knowing who had traded and for what, why the Browns couldn’t possibly take the Baker Man at one, that Josh Allen’s tweets as a twelve year old had ended his career before it had started.
But all was not lost. The NFL had thought about that. All who entered AT&T got a swag bag which included an in ear radio broadcasting live ESPN and NBC coverage. Genius. Until you heard the raucous inside the stadium.
Ok, I admit that I thought being inside a stadium to watch what was effectively a Broadway style production, would mean the intimacy and atmosphere of the Radio City Music Hall would be lost. Nuh -Uh. It was loud, raucous and all you would expect when you get fans of all 32 teams in the same place. It was sensational.
The now legendary booing of the Commissioner was taken to a whole new level. And he wasn’t saved by Messrs Staubach, Aikman and Witten. Oh no. Roger was every inch the Pantomime Villain.
The NFL had listened to their fans. Not something they are usually credited with. On the floor were the real people. Season ticket holders from each team, wearing the wild and wacky costumes for each of the teams. Special shout out to Pancho Billa, that crazy Bill’s fan who dresses up as a Mexican Lucho Libre. He has been very ill recently and was asked by Commish Goodell to take the stage to announce the Bill’s first round pick. A nice touch. Maybe it is about the people. Although I reserve judgment until the Raiders/ Seahawks tickets are released to “the people”.
Speaking of Raiders, I met Jesus. Who it turns out is a Raiders fan. Which is just as well as the rest of that fan base are just plain ol’ scary.
And so to the number one pick. Y’all know the Baker Man ended up top dog. But the noise that greeted the pick was sensational. It was as much a result of the will they, won’t they, could they, couldn’t they scenario’s which had been whirling around the media during the previous two days. The sporting world had been whipped in to a frenzy. it made for complete showbiz and was fitting for a draft which promised so much.
The experience on days 2 and 3 was equally enjoyable but not as intense. In fact Saturday was very low key (most of the picks are made off site) but I have to admit very much enjoyable. Day three is much more of a wander round with a beer in your hand kind of day. Fans are encouraged to pop in and out of the draft during the day, which to be honest is a bit of a marathon. So if you think going to the Draft is a one day affair, think again.
I bumped into a group of guys who go every year. While I have no other benchmark, they loved AT&T. They could have been snobby about it and said it was better back in the day at the Garden. But they didn’t. So I take that as a ringing endorsement. And there was the beauty of it. In London we are the home guys. Everyone wants to try tea and scones or go for a pint at the pub. Meet the Queen. At the Draft everyone is a visitor. Even the Cowboy’s seemed to be from out of town. My knowledge or intelligence was never questioned. There were a few, “you are from where?” But I get that a lot. There is a LOT to say about Southern hospitality.
I suspect most of you reading this have no time for the Jones family. Whatever your thoughts, they put on one hell of a show. They say everything is bigger in Texas. Well it is and it was. Good luck to the next city selected to follow that up.
On the shortlist as next year’s hosts are (amongst others) Vegas and Nashville. I expect Vegas will get its turn, perhaps permanently, when the NFL inevitably returns there in a few years. Before that I think Nashville, a great city if you haven’t visited, would be perfect Southern hosts.
If, as I know, more and more of you are thinking of planning a NFL themed vacation in the coming twelve months – seriously consider the draft. It was ace. And my team didn’t get beat. Well figuratively maybe, but our hard fought 0-0 pre September record remains intact.
Just do it. Oops, no promotion intended.
Photo credit : @geosomerville