Philadelphia News & Search
They came to Philadelphia by the thousands, from everywhere, to bask in all things football.
Fans came from Kansas City, the Cleveland ‘burbs, Oakland and Las Vegas, maybe even one or two from Arizona, to converge on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway early Thursday, and they never stopped as the league kicked off its 2017 draft.
The spectacle of it all, the diverse mix of gear from almost every team in the league in one spot, was unlike anything the city had ever seen. Somehow, it felt familiar, though.
“E-A-G-L-E-S. Eagles!” Nick Shoemaker, 25, of Cherry Hill, shouted outside the TGI Friday’s at 17th Street and the Parkway.
Shoemaker and his rowdy crew heckled the many Dallas Cowboys fans who were heading in, along with anyone in a Tom Brady jersey. Some lowly franchises, the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins, were given a reprieve.
Once through the security lines, attendees were greeted by the largest fan festival the league has ever created, about 25 football fields long.
Grown men were giddy.
“It’s not only Christmas Day, it’s Christmas Day at the North Pole,” said Erik Sonlin, 46, of Fox Chase.
Sonlin, wearing a Seth Joyner throwback jersey, brought his son Dylan, 14, to the draft. Both wore fluorescent green wigs.
Hundreds of kids came down with illnesses to miss school, or were part of “bring your kid to work day” with parents who skipped work.
“Yeah, they played hooky today,” said Bill Driscoll, of Media, who brought his son Billy, 9, to the draft.
There was something for most everyone, as long as it had to do with football: giant team helmets, replica Super Bowl rings, zip lines, physical challenges for kids, the occasional celebrity, and lots of beer.
Liam Toney, 8, came to Philadelphia from West Virginia as part of his home-schooling studies with his mom, Jorene Soto. For the little football player, the draft festivities were too much to resist. He enjoyed the obstacle course the most, except for the ball pit.
“I didn’t like crawling out,” he said.
Liam’s mother said they would get back to the historical side of Philly on Friday.
One piece of sports history unfamiliar to Philadelphians was the Vince Lombardi Trophy. It’s only awarded to Super Bowl winners. Rob Matos, 39, of Atlantic City, waited 45 minutes to take a picture with it.
“It’s worth it,” Matos said. “This whole thing is not like anything I’ve seen before.”
Hours before the draft was set to begin, thousands gathered in front of the NFL’s newest piece of history, the three-story, 300-foot-wide “draft theater” it built on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. They were looking for anything to cheer for, chanting “Chucky” when ESPN analyst Jon Gruden peaked out from a curtain to wave.
Off to the side of the theater, the Rocky Balboa statue stood alone in the shadows, behind a fence. A food stand that sold Italian sausage had been erected nearby.
Carl Weathers, who played Balboa’s most famous opponent, Apollo Creed, was there in the flesh, on the glitzy red carpet the NFL built for players, prospects, and their parents on the museum’s main entrance behind the theater.
Weathers was a linebacker, briefly, for the Oakland Raiders.
Mayor Kenney was there too, along with Gov. Wolf.
Kenney was pleased with how the day was turning out.
“I’m happy all these people have come to our town and are staying in our hotels and eating in our restaurants,” Kenney said. “It’s just putting Philadelphia on the map nationally and internationally.”
A banner plane above the draft reminded the crowd that Philadelphia was a living, breathing city with issues bigger than football. It trailed a banner that read “City Hall (heart) sports but hates teachers.” (Philadelphia’s schoolteachers have been without a contract for almost four years, without a raise for five.)
There was so much to do at the NFL Draft Experience and so much to see, it was easy to forget the reason it was all happening, how one young man could possibly change the course of a franchise while getting rich in the process.
That’s why Cleveland Browns fans Jamey Keegan, 46, and Adam Rubin, 45, were there.
The Browns, both men said, have been blessed with great picks in recent years and cursed shortly after. The longtime friends wore orange and brown and held fast to hope that their team wouldn’t fumble yet another gift. They wanted their team — which had the first pick in the draft — to select Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett.
“No matter what anyone says, Cleveland has the best fans in the country,” said Keegan, of Mayfield Heights, Ohio.
When the draft finally began, Philadelphia greeted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell with a chorus of boos before announcing that the Browns had selected Garrett.
The two lowly Browns fans got their man.
Philadelphia News & Search