The Next Generation

I went to the NFL Draft this weekend. It was my first time.

I’m working on a story on former Boston College QB Matt Ryan and was hoping to spend some time with him and his family. You know, watch a few draft picks, score a couple childhood stories from mom, meet his sister and brothers and call it a day. If predictions were right and Ryan was going number three to Atlanta, I’d be out of there in no time.

What was I thinking?

I’m not sure. I’ve watched the Draft on TV for years, so I honestly can’t tell you what I expected in person. What I did know was that on my list of ways I’d like to spend a Saturday, watching the Draft ranked just below watching paint dry. Aside from professional curiosity, I’ve really never had a desire to sit in a room (even if that room is in Radio City Music Hall) and listen to a guy at a podium call out names. I could do that at the DMV. Besides, Blackberry updates could quench my need to know, and at home, I could see everything ticket holders see in person—and then some. And I wouldn’t have to put on a suit. But I also can’t say I wasn’t at least a little curious.

When I arrived at Radio City, I was stunned. Hundreds of sports fans clad in gameday gear were staking out the building, hoping for a glimpse of the players. Inside was something I can only describe as an NFL Superfan convention: thousands of fans who had paid hundreds of dollars to throw on a team jersey, sit in a cushioned theater seat and cheer once every few hours when their team was on the clock. Don’t worry. They kept themselves busy by booing the other 31 picks. It was like a Star Trek convention. Except, obviously, there were way more guys in funny outfits with pointy ears milling about the Draft.

I grabbed my credential, press area seat assignment (and NFL Draft radio, just in case I had to take a bathroom break and miss a few minutes of the waiting) and entered the fray. Luckily, as predicted, my stay was “brief”—I was out in three hours—as Ryan indeed went third overall. Down in the interview room, I met a few members of his family. I say a few, because Ryan had at least 30 family members in attendance.

Mrs. Ryan said when Matt was first invited to New York, he was hesitant to come because he was afraid there would be a limit on family members. When he found out there was no limit, well, let’s just say the Falcons should be excited. They’re about to be the best road team in the league. “Yes, the Ryans travel well,” Mom said. On Saturday morning, 18 of Matt’s younger cousins hopped a train from Philly to surprise him in New York. And everyone from Uncles to high school coaches to his “bitty ball” coach made the trip, as well.

Leaving, I still didn’t fully understand the draw for the average sports fan. But for the friends and family and coaches of a player invited to the Draft, I certainly understood what all the fuss was about.

“What? I’ll be making how much?”


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