The Draft-y City

A look at the 2015 NFL Draft in Chicago

Born in Chicago (Paul Butterfield 1965, blues)

Groundhog’s Day. The name means different things to different people. Some view it as a silly day where a rodent attempts to forecast the weather. Others, like those in Punxsutawney, PA consider it a day of celebration. To the cinephiles it is the gem from Chicagoans Harold Ramis and Bill Murray that was also the source of significant strain on their relationship. But to the football world it is the birthday of one of the founding fathers of the NFL, Chicago’s own George Stanley Halas, Sr. (February 2, 1895).

“Papa Bear” Halas was a founding member of the American Professional Football Association, which in 1922 became the NFL. Halas made the Chicago Bears the first team to hold daily practice sessions, to analyze film of opponents to find weaknesses and means of attack, place assistant coaches in the press box during games, place tarp on the field, publish a club newspaper, and to broadcast games by radio. His impact on the game is immortal and is commemorated by the George Halas Trophy which is given each year to the NFC champion.

And so, 120 years after his birth, the NFL draft returned to Chicago; to the home of one of its founders and legends.

Homecoming (Kanye West, Ft. Chris Martin 2008, rap / hip-hop)

The NFL Draft was born out of a league meeting that took place on May 18, 1935, where then Eagles co-owner Bert Bell suggested a draft to increase competitiveness. Bell’s Eagles had been having a tough time fielding a competitive team and selling tickets as the other teams were outbidding them for players each season. In 1936, the first ever NFL draft was held at the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia. From 1965 to 2014 the draft was held in New York City. In between, the Draft has called Chicago, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Washington DC home.

From April 30th to May 2nd 2015 the NFL hosted its first NFL Draft outside of Manhattan in 50 years in their newly minted “Draft Town” in Chicago’s famed Grant Park on the edges of majestic Lake Michigan. The last NFL draft not held in New York City, was in fact in Chicago, so the 2015 edition of the draft marked a homecoming of sorts.

That Toddlin’ Town (Fred Fisher – 1922, popularized by Frank Sinatra 1957, popular and jazz)

Chicago’s three day 2015 affair marked the first time that the NFL Draft would partially be held outdoors, as well as the first time picks would be made via remote locations by fans.

The star studded affair began with the Gold Carpet, which took place prior to the Thursday April 30th broadcast of the First Round from Roosevelt University’s historic Auditorium Theatre. Amongst those to walk the Gold Carpet were: Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Dick Butkus, Melvin Gordon, Jim Kelly, Brandon Scherff, Leonard Williams, Todd Gurley, Danny Shelton, DeVante Parker, Kevin Johnson, Byron Jones, Cedric Ogbuehi, Trae Waynes, Kevin White, Vic Beasley, Jaelen Strong, Breshad Perriman, and Charles Haley. Kevin Frazier interviewed many of the Gold Carpet celebrities, and I had the privilege of standing next to him during these conversations. Frazier deserves credit for being a class act in his interviews with the athletes, their families, as well as the throng of fans that waited outside the theatre for hours before the Draft began. He clearly felt the effects of the cool evening over the course of the lengthy pre-draft festivities but handled the entire event with great aplomb.

Melvin Gordon was by far the most personable of those that joined Frazier, shaking hands, signing autographs, and joking around with the crowd. He even took the opportunity to film the crowd and post a selfie with them on the NFL’s official snapchat livestream.

Leonard Williams, widely regarded as the best player in the draft, confidently picked Pacquiao to beat Mayweather when I asked him during a commercial break who he thought was going to win the big fight. That garnered a playfully shocked and skeptical look from Frazier who correctly picked Mayweather to take the bout.

Brandon Scherff chided Frazier, who was clearly feeling the effects of the Chicago wind, by exclaiming that he wasn’t cold at all. The Bears fans were screaming for Scherff as some mock drafts had Scherff going to the Bears, but alas that was not to be.

The highlight of the gold carpet, perhaps, was to witness all the mothers, fathers, girlfriends, and family members supporting the soon to be draft picks. They faces shown with pride and a sense of accomplishment, having seen first-hand the decades of sacrifice, hard-work, and dedication the student athletes endured to make their dreams a reality. This moment was for them, for the families, for their shared happy ending.

My Kind of Town (Frank Sinatra, 1964, popular, jazz)

The 2015 NFL draft was held inside the historic Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University. The theater opened in 1889 and the Auditorium Building, inside which the theatre resides, was named a historical landmark in 1975.

The buzz of the Gold Carpet was the appetizer to the main course that was the First Round of the Draft. Inside the theatre the energy was absolutely electric. Despite the fact the venue only made 2800 tickets available for the event, which is significantly less than the 6,015 seats of Radio City Music Hall, the buzz palpable in person and as well as on television. For those lucky enough to get inside the theater, the NFL had swag bags waiting for the fans. These bags included radios to hear the ESPN and NFL Network coverage, commemorative pins, food, cell phone car chargers, trading cards of the newly minted draft picks, and more.

The NFL Network coverage spearheaded by Rich Eisen and Mike Mayock took place at balcony box level on the audience’s left side of the auditorium. The ESPN coverage led by Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. took place to the audience’s right.

The first round kicked off with Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay) and Marcus Mariota (Tennessee) as predicted by all the pundits. The true surprise pick of the draft came at No. 3 when Shahid Khan (who like Halas also attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) selected Dante Fowler Jr. from Florida for his Jacksonville Jaguars. Many had predicted either Williams, or Amari Cooper to land with Khan’s Jags. The rest of the first round was generally uneventful, with perhaps the biggest round of applause coming for Kevin White who was on hand to greet his new hometown fans when he was drafted by the Chicago Bears with the number 7 overall pick. A complete list of draft picks can be found here.

The highlight of the weekend draft for me personally was witnessing the lengthy and emotional standing ovation that greeted Jim Kelly when he approached the podium for the Bills’ second round pick. The ovation was entirely spontaneous and a testament to Kelly’s strength and the fans emotional generosity as well as their loyalty to those that play the game we have come to love. Dick Butkus received a very warm welcome as well by his hometown Bear fans. Butkus, like Halas, is a native Chicagoan who also attended the University of Illinois and became a legend with the Bears. After Butkus announced the Bears 2nd round draft pick he was interviewed by the late great Walter Payton’s daughter Brittney, who interviewed many of the legends throughout the draft. Another of my favorite moments was when Icky Woods did his famous shuffle for the crowd and even yelled “cold cuts!” to the raucous crowd’s delight.

Across the Auditorium Theatre Draft Town was a huge hit with the fans. Over 200,000 fans and families experienced the Draft Town and Selection Square festivities, which spanned the size of 15 football fields with each team holding their own draft party, and where the food was curated by Graham Elliott. The Chicago police reported that no arrests were made over the weekend in connection to the NFL draft, marking a very safe and successful weekend for the league and the city.

You can revisit the Draft Town experience in pictures here and here.

SuperBowl Shuffle (Chicago Bears, 1985, rap)

The Chicago Bears, had not celebrated a Super Bowl victory since the Monsters of Midway prevailed in 1986. The 2015 NFL Draft was by and large one of the largest football activities to hit the City of Chicago in decades and the City is hopeful the NFL will choose it again to host the draft in future years.

By all accounts the NFL draft in Chicago was wildly successful, however it remains to be seen if the NFL will shuffle the event to venues across the country in the future.. But there is a lot of football to be played between now and the next draft, and at least for the moment, all fans can be excited about the future of their teams, for there are no losers on Draft Day.

Till the games are played, I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek at the 2015 NFL Draft (and the accompanying Chicago Soundtrack)…Go Bears!

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