USAir Flight 597 from Pittsburgh, with me aboard, arrived safely in White Plains, New York at 6:02, last Friday evening. Earlier in the day, I made the two-and-a-half hour drive from Strongsville, Ohio to the five-year-old (and very nice I might add) Pittsburgh International Airport. Unfortunately, a heavy electrical storm arrived at about the same time, forcing the shutdown of all gates at the small regional airport. Despite a one-hour wait on the tarmac, I was in high spirits. It was Draft Day Eve, and for the fourth straight year, I would be at Madison Square Garden to witness the NFL Draft.
Once we were able to de-plane and enter the terminal, a good friend who I've known since the seventh grade was waiting with a smile and a tough guy handshake that said, "Let's commence to beerdrinking." Actually, we didn't do that much drinking – only about five apiece. We needed to save our energy for the long day to come, which included waking up at 5:15 to catch a 6:20 train into "The City." But, we did have time to check out the Tribe getting embarrassed again on Direct TV, and spent a good hour on the internet sifting through the latest draft rumors and news on Bernie's Insiders and various other sites.
I slept like a baby, literally. I woke every other hour with new thoughts about how the day ahead would turn out. Damn, I love the draft.
My buddy and I awoke promptly at 5:15, got ourselves ready for the trip into town and tried desperately not to disturb his wife (who, by the way, is from Pittsburgh – I don't know what he was thinking, but she's nice). I wore my simple grey Browns t-shirt and took an almost identical Browns sweatshirt along in case it was cold early. I also had my now-beaten hat with the old "Brownie" on the front – I wanted to convey to everyone that I was old school. My friend, who had been in New Orleans the week before bought us both orange beads, you know, the ones you get if you flash at mardi gras. But these were special because the included a large Browns helmet medallian. So we wore those as well.
We made the train station at 6:15 and didn't wait long for the nearly on-time 6:20 that would take us to Grand Central Station, about ten blocks away from Madison Square Garden. We arrived at Grand Central at almost 7:30, found a cab and took the short ride to MSG.
Upon our arrival, we knew the drill. First, you go around back to get a wristband. Usually there's a wait, but we got right in. Then, you stand in line. There were about 500 people ahead of us. We talked to the Giants fans who were at the very front of the line and they told us they'd been there since 2 a.m. Now that's hardcore.
Once in line, we knew the big wait was on. It was not even 8 a.m. and we knew that they wouldn't start letting people in until around 11, but it didn't matter. We took turns getting breakfast and found the conversation interesting. Directly behind me was Jimmy, a Steelers/Giants fan from Long Island. We talked about who each of our teams was going to pick and just general football for a while. As we were talking, a Browns fan, who looked familiar walked up to ask if we'd seen about a half dozen Browns fans he was looking for. Jamil (I'm not sure of the spelling) was a Manhattan Browns Backer member and couldn't find the rest of his group. I don't think they ever showed, but he stuck with us for the rest of the day. Turns out Jamil was part of the larger group we sat with the last four years, but we never got to talk. A great guy. About a half hour later, Demetrius, a Browns Backer from Boston stops by to join us. We hung out with Demetrius last year – another good guy. He was visiting friends in Jersey City that wanted to go to the draft. He had been out drinking with them until 3 a.m. the night before. He got up at 6 a.m. to leave for the draft and the rest of them were too hung over to go with him. So he came solo. Now that's dedication.
The three hours went by quickly. A group of boisterous fans about ten people behind us in line were doing some heavy-duty trash-talking to keep us entertained. Jamil wanted Duckett, Demetrius wanted Fonoti, my buddy wanted Fonoti and I wanted Shockey. We were a divided group. All of us though were pulling for the prospect of a trade up to get McKinnie.
At about 10:30, the line started to move. This would take us through the building to be quickly patted down by security and then on to get our tickets. Once we had our tickets in hand, we made the quick trip up the escalators and into the theatre lobby area. We picked up our free ESPN gift packs (a radio, candy, draft guide, football cards). The radio comes in very handy because it allows you to hear what Mel Kiper, Jimmy Johnson, Chris Berman and the rest of the crew are talking about.
We found some seats right behind where Mike Tirico and Mike Golic were sitting. Mike and Mike did some analysis throughout the day, as well as some interviews with team officials who had just picked. In front of them sat Berman, JJ, Chris Mortensen and Kiper.
The place was filling up quickly. I asked someone who said the theatre held about 4,500 people.
We sat behind a few Giants fans and in front of some Vikings fans.
Then the day began.
Before they put Houston on the clock, they introduced five of the to players – Carr, Jammer, Mike Williams, Peppers and McKinnie. The all took a group picture. Those would be the only players to come on stage, shake the commissioners hand and have pics taken with their families. McKinnie was so freaking huge, and frankly, he even dwarfed Mike Williams.
Since it was a foregone conclusion that the first two picks would be Carr and Peppers, everyone thought the first round would move pretty quickly. But, because of all the ESPN stuff they have to do, they dragged it out quite a bit longer than most of us cared to sit for.
The Lions, of course, threw the first curveball, even though the ESPN folks seemed to expect it. Detroit took Joey Harrington. Based on what we heard, Harrington seems to be the safer pick over Carr. It was agreed amongst the group we were with that the Lions got the better player.
Then the McKinnie watch started. It was a surprise when Jammer went to the Chargers. And hope was alive that somehow we'd make a trade with Minnesota, since we figured they'd pick Roy Williams at #6. The Dallas fans had their own section up front, directly below the Jets, Giants and Eagles sections. Chants of "Cowboys suck, Cowboys suck" could be heard throughout the auditorium. I got a chuckle out of watching Jerry Jones sit alone in the Dallas War Room with a simple note pad and a phone.
As time ticked by, everyone thought something was up. Could the Browns be trying to trade up with Dallas? Then the rumor that the Chiefs wanted to make a deal with them for the rights to Sims. But, still no announcement. The clock ran down to zero. Then we hear "The Dallas Cowboys have passed."
Passed? How do you do that? Now the sections behind the Cowboys fans were really getting on them. I couldn't stop laughing. The Minnesota fans behind us were hoping that their pick would be Roy Williams instead of McKinnie. We hoped that they'd trade the pick to us. Then we were informed that KC and Dallas had in fact traded picks and that KC had chosen Sims. We're still alive. Minnesota took it down to the wire, but spoiled our fun by drafting McKinnie themselves. They seemed happy even though they didn't get Williams.
Cincinnati drew loud laughter after Levi Jones was picked so early. A father and son who were wearing Bengals garb about four rows behind us charged for the exits, shaking their heads. I think they really thought they'd go for Shockey or one of the two available DTs (Bryant/Haynesworth). But, that's what Bengals football is all about – disappointment.
Shockey went as expected to the Giants. Just prior to the pick "Big Blue", a rather busty 40-something fan made her way into the building. She's there every year with a sign. This year, it read "Shock Me!" If you were watching, I'm sure you saw her.
We had to refocus our attention to who we'd pick at #16. Players started to drop. Haynesworth and Buchanon were still on the board. Were they areas of need? Probably not. But, were they too good to pass up if still there when we picked? Then Haynesworth was snatched up by Tennessee. At that point, I thought we'd go either Buchanon or Green.
Tagliabue walked to the podium in what seemed like slow motion. Green was announced. And, we applauded. Despite having different ideas about what this team needed, William Green was now a Brown. No more worry about James Jackson staying healthy and getting bigger, no more worry about Ben Gay learning the position. We had our feature back and that was satisfying to us.
We stuck around until the Jets pick. But, it was about 5 p.m. and hunger and thirst for alcohol forced us to hit the exits. We made our way to ESPNZone in Times Square to have dinner, pound some beers and watch the next two rounds. Four of five other Browns fans did the same and we visited their tables to get their reaction to the Green pick. Generally, they all felt positive about it.
We stuck around ESPNZone after dinner and watched the draft from the bar. Three other Browns fans and a couple Giants fans who we met sat around and drank and talked about who we might take in Round 2. A ton of offensive linemen started to slip. Fonoti, Gurode, Bentley. We hoped against hope that one or more of those players would be available to us. I was the only one to recognize the name when Andre Davis was announced. I had heard good things. But another 2nd Round WR? Hey, if he's half as good as KJ, I'll take it.
No one knew Fowler, but the draft guides said he was good and we were just thankful that an offensive lineman was taken.
The beers kept flowing and the football talk kept going on until about midnight. The long train ride back home was inevitable.
But I'll be back next year, for sure. Who's coming with me?