NEW YORK, NY — All the glitz and glamor that New York City has to offer was on display on the corner of 51st st. and 6th ave. at Radio City Music Hall Thursday night. The first round of the NFL draft came and went and the draftees were all smiles, unfazed by uncertainty regarding their new job. The bright lights shined just enough to blind players from the reality that, despite Judge Susan Nelson’s ruling that the lockout has been enjoined, there is still no football being played. The red carpet was rolled over the facts no matter what a U.S. court rules, there is still no current collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players.
Call it naivety. Call it being caught up in the moment. But whatever the case, the newly drafted players – like number one overall selection and new Carolina Panther Cam Newton — didn’t have these pressing thoughts on their minds. Instead, they were more focused on how their abilities will improve their new teams.
“I’m really not focused on endorsements and money,” Newton said when asked about the labor dispute and the new capping of rookie salaries. “That’s really something that’s going to take care of itself. The one thing I’m focused on, and my number one priority, is getting in this organization and make steps as far as me becoming a better player.”
And to Newton’s credit, why should be worry about that stuff? At least not on his inaugural evening into the National Football League. After all, the draft is meant to be a celebratory event of a culmination of hard work and determination. Let him get his feet wet before pushing him off the deep end.
Patrick Peterson, selected fifth overall by the Arizona Cardinals, was in agreement with Newton. “It is what it is. The decision is out of my hands. It has nothing to do with me [yet]. I still want to go out there and perform at the highest level.”
However, the there is a certain parallel that can be drawn to the uncertainty regarding the upcoming season and the hectic, anxiety-driven process that is the NFL Draft. While current NFL players are left waiting to hear whether they can merely work out at their team’s facilities, draftees patiently wait to hear their name called by commissioner Roger Goodell.
“I found out [about being selected number one overall] about 15 minutes ago. I didn’t know. I thought [the media] was going to tell me something, because I was out there for a long time. I haven’t been able to sleep,” Newton said.
Despite the certainty NFL Draft “experts” may hold after participating in a plethora of mock drafts, the player’s — for the most part — are left in the dark until they get that phone call. “My phone didn’t ring. I was like, maybe it’s not my pick and I looked up to my dad’s phone and it had the 303 area code. I know immediately who it was,” Von Miller, selected number two overall by the Denver Broncos, said regarding the process.
Most players invited out to the draft day experience hope to be selected early and avoid the possibility of looking like Brady Quinn (see also: Leinart, Matt; Rodgers, Aaron; Moss, Randy), who memorably fell to number 22 overall, but others — like Alabama receiver Julio Jones — kept an open mind. “I came here open, [it] didn’t matter where I went. Just because I didn’t want to be one of those guys to be disappointed to go to a team. It didn’t matter what team I went to,” Jones said. That’s pretty easy for him to say, as the Atlanta Falcons traded up to the sixth spot to select the stud receiver.
“Back in the Green Room, guys were scrambling around a little bit because I guess however it was supposed to go, it didn’t go that way,” J.J. Watt, eleventh overall selection by the Houston Texans, said. “But for me, I was just waiting for a phone call and extremely excited when I found out it was Houston on the other end.”
Certainly, Thursday night was a memorable evening for those selected in the first round. But soon enough the honeymoon with their newly found employers will be over and the reality will set in that, despite what occurred last night, the league still has a long way to go before these players can fulfill their dreams of playing in the NFL.
*Writer’s note: A special shout out and thank you is in order to Calvin Morrissey of Big Fuel and GMC for their hospitality and VIP treatment at the NFL Draft. They took care of me in the VIP all-access room (free food and beer!) as well as in the interview room, getting me insider access.*