Your typical NFL fan has many major football dates circled on their calendar: kickoff weekend, rivalry games, and of course the Super Bowl, just to name a few. This past week was one of the largest dates of the year; the NFL Draft.
Besides the millions who watched the event from home, some of the most dedicated fans travelled from all over to New York City to support their team and oppose their rivals. It’s the last great football event before the NFL-barren summer of offseason workouts (themselves limited this year thanks to the ongoing lockout) and the lackluster preseason. It’s a spectacle that’s unique among other sports’ amateur drafts, due to the sheer popularity of the sport and the ritualistic nature that the event has obtained.
Since 2006, New York’s Radio City Music Hall has hosted the event. Under the current system, a fan may wait for up to eight hours in line to get a free ticket to the event. This ticket entitles the fan to the first two days of the draft and ensures them a seat for the event. Most fans will enter the event as they would a week in the regular season, wearing jerseys, bringing signs and perhaps even donning face paint. Fans take their seat (that they don’t plan on using during the event) and get ready for the show.
The NFL Draft has become a fan experience that attracts thousands of new fans every year. Repeat fans are mostly, but not all, local Jets, Giants, and Eagles fans that bring a home-field advantage to the event; you can’t miss the J-E-T-S chants. When those home picks are announced, the announcement is treated with an overwhelming response from the home fans, one that is not always positive. One moment that comes to mind is the 1999 NFL Draft, whereEagles fans almost started a riot when their team selected Donovan McNabb with the second overall pick.
Overall, the draft has grown in size and spectacle each year . The 2010 Draft was the first held in prime time and the move led to record ratings, with an average audience of 8.3 million watching on ESPN and NFL Network.
Every year, millions speculate on whom their team will pick and who will be drafted first overall. However, the 2011 NFL Draft will most likely not be remembered for the first overall draft pick, Cam Newton, or the Falcons-Browns trade for the sixth pick, but rather the issues behind the pageantry.
The massive storm cloud of the lockout loomed over this year’s event, and it even directly interfered with the proceedings at one point Friday, when a Minnesota federal appeals court granted a stay to the NFL, putting the lockout officially back on during the middle of the draft’s second round.
The lockout is a real threat to the millions of NFL fans, and it made a loud impact during this year’s event. Many fans who attended the draft used it as a chance not just to watch the picks themselves, but rather as an open forum to voice their displeasure with the current NFL labor situation. Fans didn’t wait long to set this plan into action, as the introduction of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to the podium was greeted with a resounding chorus of boos by many of the fans in attendance.
These boos transformed into a “let them play” chant that had the commissioner struggling to get a word in. In fact, Goodell was booed constantly for most of the first two days. Externally, the displeasure was felt with the ratings for the event; viewership was down 17 per cent from last year’s ratings. While that drop can perhaps be attributed to other factors, one has to assume the lockout was at least part of the declining ratings.
At the draft, there was one particular moment where fans refrained from this assault; a moment of silence for those affected by the devastation in Alabama the day before.
In a very moving gesture, players and coaches from the University of Alabama and Auburn University, two schools with a bitter rivalry on the field, came together for a moment of silence for those affected by the disaster. It was only for a short time, but the mood in the room changed dramatically despite some fans continuing to boo. The anger and distraught that loomed over the draft disappeared for that brief moment and almost all in attendance took a step back and put life in perspective.
Passion is one thing that drives almost any sports fan, and it’s one of those things that convinces all of us to put our hearts into our teams. A moment like that may have been taken for granted by some, but it shows something about fans that happens every now and then over the years. It demonstrates that there’s more to fans than just passion for their sport, and it showed a compassion for things greater than sport.
The 2011 NFL Draft still had what it always has, the intrigue, the speculation, the glamour, and the fans, but this year it had so much more. Some of those extra moments were good, some were bad and some were just downright ugly, but they were all unique.
Remember this draft; you’ll probably never see another like it again.