I was very fortunate this year to be able to get both my personal and work calendars to sync up allowing me to attend the 2014 NFL Draft. The event did not disappoint. The host New Yorkers were accommodating and the city’s atmosphere was electric in anticipation of the big day. What the draft has become over the years is simply amazing. The NFL’s first official draft was on February 8, 1936 and took place at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Philadelphia, PA.
The Eagles, surprising many including myself, grabbed Louisville linebacker Marcus Smith 26th overall which is the highest Philadelphia has taken a linebacker since picking Jerry Robinson 21st overall in 1979. While I feel the team might have been able to obtain slightly better value grabbing a wide receiver at that point, I do like the Smith pick and feel he will impact the Eagles defense positively this year.
The draft is a fascinating spectacle to behold, so I wanted some perspective on those early drafts. I spoke with life-long New York Jets fan Carl Banilower who attended the January 28, 1971 draft which would have officially been the 5th common draft after the AFL-NFL merger. That year the Eagles had the 5th overall pick and took defensive end Richard Harris from Grambling.
I asked Carl Banilower his draft story and he said, “The draft has become a huge media event compared to what my experience was. I used to go out to lunch with a few of my buddies from work. I heard the draft was going to be in New York at the Belmont Plaza Hotel, so that morning I said to my buddies, instead of wasting our time like we normally do, let’s go to the NFL draft. They looked at me like I was crazy.”
Banilower continued, “I finally convinced my friends that we should check it out, so we get over to the hotel and find the ballroom where the draft is being conducted. We open the doors to the ballroom and each team has a table set up, and Commissioner Pete Rozelle is at the end of the room. We were half expecting four security guards to run up and throw us out, but nothing happened! Aside from the people assigned by the teams it was me, my buddies, and a handful of reporters, and that was it!”
He concluded his story with a possible glimpse into the future when he described the New York Giants 1971 first round pick, 18th overall saying, “While we were there at the draft I remember vividly Rozelle announcing the New York Giants selecting West Texas A&M wide receiver Rocky Thompson, because my buddy who was with me was an avid Giants fan, and he was crestfallen with that pick because he had never heard of the guy. I think had the draft been then like it is today, the Giants fans would have been throwing themselves off the balcony at Radio City Music Hall!”
The draft has most definitely changed over the years, as this year the coverage of the 2014 NFL Draft on NFL Network, ESPN & ESPN2 reached 45.7 million people across the three days, topping the previous record set in 2010, according to The Nielsen Company. Social media has had a huge impact as well, according to the Nielsen Social guide, more than 9.6 million tweets were sent about the 2014 NFL Draft, up 211 percent from 2013.
One thing for sure is that the Eagles received great value for their trades, and GM Howie Roseman and head coach Chip Kelly stuck to their draft board. They had a plan and executed that plan. Time will tell how well Philadelphia did, but we do know for certain that the impact and especially fan’s interest in the draft will only increase.
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