Chi-Town became Draft Town. New York has hosted the NFL Draft forever, but it moved to Chicago, a change that drew a bit of surprised criticism when it went down…in New York, anyway. In Chicago, they were just excited, pumped to have such a huge offseason event—as big as it gets, for the offseason—right in their backyard. Then the NFL Draft hit the stage, or the screen, and it was…
Roger Goodell came out on the stage and everyone booed. He said the name of the team and paused, and someone always yelled into the silence. If they had one of those weird little team slogans, they yelled that. If not, they just yelled. Then he said the name of the pick and everyone cheered.
Players sat in a separate area and sweat desperately as they waited for their names to be called—especially players like Shane Ray, players who fell. When they were called, they walked out onto the stage to the roar of the crowd. Some high-fived Roger Goodell, others picked him up and hugged him. Classic moves from players who love the commissioner on draft day and will complain about him later, when they get fined. But not today.
They stood on the stage with jerseys for the cameras, bulbs flashing. Their names plastered on the back with an insane speed that got the jersey into their hands just moments after the pick was announced. They held the jerseys up and then walked off the stage, some knowing where to go and others looking momentarily lost until they were directed onward, and then, for the TV viewers, the broadcast team came back to talk about the pick and the next team on the clock.
It was the same. It was the NFL Draft. Above all, this year proved it doesn’t need New York. It works in any city.
There were two notable differences. For one, Jets fans might have booed, but they weren’t as loud because there weren’t as many. It didn’t hurt that they got a huge gift in Leonard Williams. Still, the classic booing was gone from a franchise that is so used to messing it up that they’re just ready to boo regardless.
Instead, the Packers got booed. Not by their own fans, because the Packers have dominated the division and drafted very well. They got booed by the Bears fans, because it’s Chicago and because the Packers have dominated the division and drafted very well.
The fanfare before the draft was pretty intense. It showed that Chicago really did embrace this event. They were glad to have it, whereas New York may have taken it for granted. They set up blocks of tents, outdoor screens, and activities for the fans. You could get in an anti-gravity tube and pretend you were Walter Payton, soaring over the line and into the endzone. It was a carnival atmosphere. Where the draft was the same, the city was buzzing.
The dates and locations for the Draft in 2016 have yet to be determined. Will it stay in Chicago, will it head back to New York, or will they just start cycling it around like the Super Bowl? It’s been called the Super Bowl of the offseason, so that would actually make a lot of sense.
One thing is for certain, though: The NFL Draft will work anywhere. It will pick up a bit of hometown flavor from the fans, but the NFL is such a huge machine at this point that it will just kick out the same production year in and year out, no matter where it happens to be.