NFL Draft goes from ballrooms to city centers

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Once upon a time, in a land far, far away known as Philadelphia, a group of rich guys decided in a hotel ballroom there was a need to distribute the talent of football players equitably to participate in the National Football League.

There was none of this “Go to the highest bidder” stuff. You would have your name on a blackboard, someone would select you and you would play football for them. Take it or leave it.

That was in 1936.

We’ve come a long way since then. The NFL no longer holds its annual draft in hotels. It chooses entire cities to showcase the newest bunch of millionaires who get paid by 32 billionaires.

The newspapers that bothered to report who was drafted back then now embed reporters in team “War Rooms,” putting out who gets picked via their websites and through their social media outlets.

There’s red carpets. Green rooms with crying moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, hearts filled with joy. Specially designed suits with cool linings in all sorts of styles and hues for the draftees to show themselves off in. It’s a colorful event to be sure.

This year’s NFL Draft, a seven-round, three-day extravaganza, takes place in Nashville beginning Thursday. Could there be a more appropriate place where dreams are realized and others shattered? It would make a great country song, one Brad Paisley wouldn’t even need Peyton Manning to collaborate with in order to write.

Come to think of it, there’s one place better than Nashville to hold the draft — Las Vegas.

The highs of hitting the jackpot as a top-10 pick. The despair of falling out of the first round and essentially crapping out. The draft is so Vegas-like. And we’ll get to experience it a year from now when the NFL brings its “selection meeting” to Sin City with the Raiders as the host organization. And won’t that be a hoot?

I was talking to Doug Castaneda, the director of the Wynn Las Vegas race and sports book, about the NFL and the draft. He made a really good point — people can’t get enough of the NFL. It has become a virtual 12-months-a-year enterprise.

There’s the combine. There’s the release of the schedule. The draft. The OTAs. Training camp. Preseason. Then, the main event — the regular season, followed by the playoffs and culminating with the Super Bowl.

The NFL always seems to be in the news. And I’m not even talking about all the miscreants who find their way onto TV, the papers and Twitter. The message controlled by the Shield never stops.

Even Pete Rozelle, the former NFL commissioner who did more to grow professional football than anyone, couldn’t have imagined this. The draft, in prime time, on network TV, tens of thousands gathered in an NFL city to watch. 

And Pete thought he was being progressive when he moved the draft into Radio City Music Hall from the hotel?

He would absolutely love this. The spotlight on his league at a time the NHL and NBA playoffs are taking place, where baseball should be dominating the conversation?

I think Pete would even enjoy getting a “Bro Hug” from a 6-foot-7, 315-pound offensive tackle. The fact you can bet on the draft? He probably wouldn’t approve of that.  

But this is Roger Goodell’s show now. He gets booed, not as bad as NHL commish Gary Bettman perhaps, but loud enough to confirm his arrogance from the fans. He gives his Bro Hugs, makes sure the military is properly honored and acknowledged, does a perfunctory interview or two with ESPN and the NFL Network, and shows up to some corporate events.  

Hey, the guy’s got to earn his $200 million somehow, right?

As for his 32 teams, this is the chance for restoring hope in their fan bases, an opportunity to add some pieces to maintain their winning ways, a reason to believe.

There’s going to be jubilation. There’ll be plenty of anxiety. There’ll be head scratching, lots of “I told you so’s,” a zillion Tweets ripping or praising a team’s selection and Mel Kiper Jr.’s “Big Board” on ESPN. 

It’ll be a wild three days. Jets fans groaning. Eagles fans booing. Cowboys fans cursing Jerry Jones and everyone else’s fans with varying levels of angst, joy and disgust.

The Arizona Cardinals have been on the clock since Dec. 30. Let the 84th Player Selection Meeting begin. And may the Giants find Eli Manning’s successor.

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About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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