Does Philly deserve next year’s draft? ‘Heck yeah,’ fans say

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The NFL draft may have been winding down, but 11-year-old Therese Lucian was going up.

Way up.

Fully three stories, to a platform where she would strap into a harness and go flying through the air on Zip to the Future, a zipline that offered a high punt’s view of the NFL draft on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

“I’m ready,” Therese said, her jaw set.

She completed the trip without so much as a scream or shriek. Other fans, watching the picks of their favorite teams, were much noisier.

The third and final day of the NFL draft in Philadelphia was supposed to be slower, but thousands of people arrived at the morning opening and hundreds were still streaming inside a full four hours after the start of the NFL Experience.

“It’s been great for the city,” said Therese’s father, John Lucian, a Center City attorney.

The NFL Experience, spread across the equivalent of 25 football fields along and around the parkway, served as a giant fun zone for fans old and young. For those wanting to watch rounds four through seven, the draft was playing on every screen, and live on stage at the Art Museum steps.

It was unclear how quickly the parkway would reopen after the event closed on Saturday night, putting an end to the traffic nightmare that has pushed car commuters onto trains and turned the Fairmount neighborhood into a bumper-to-bumper area.

On Saturday, the sun was strong, the beer was cold, the lines reasonable. Police were everywhere.

For those who came decked out in football jerseys of virtually every NFL team, it was a day to celebrate the game and its players. The word “concussion” went unmentioned.

It seemed like every third person wore a midnight green “Wentz” jersey, and that, as usual, it was impossible for Cowboys and Eagles fans to walk past each other without yapping.

“We grow to love the hate,” said a Dallas-jersey-wearing Stephen Mazzochi, 28, of South Jersey, as he posed for a photo beside a giant Cowboys helmet.

Added his Cowboys-fan girlfriend, Holly Wilkinson, 27, “You just get used to not being popular.”

On one point they and Eagles fans could agree: “The Giants fans are the worst,” Mazzochi said.

So, how did Philadelphia perform as host? And does the city deserve to have the draft here again next year?

“Heck yeah,” said Cristani Robles, 26, wearing the black-and-gold stripes of an old-fashioned Steelers jersey. “And the Super Bowl.”

Jason Ortiz and his wife, Rosanna, drove here from Washington on Sunday to take part in the draft. They liked what they found. Philadelphia might deserve a second draft next year, they said, but their first choice would be the hometown of their favorite team, the Indianapolis Colts.

“Everybody’s been really nice,” said Rosanna, 29.

People were expected to travel here from all 50 states.

“For some, this is their Super Bowl, and it’s a bucket-list event, and for some it’s an annual event,” NFL Senior Vice President Peter O’Reilly said shortly before the draft began.

Bringing the draft here next year was a possibility, O’Reilly said, but no decisions would be made until after this year’s event concluded. About two dozen markets have expressed interest, and Philadelphia would not automatically host next year’s draft simply because Chicago had it twice in a row, he added.

“You have set the bar for what the draft is supposed to be like,” former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins told a cheering crowd from the draft stage. “That’s how you do it! That’s how we do it!”

Erin Kopp and her family came from California for her husband’s annual Risk Management Society convention, landing in the middle of an NFL draft they hadn’t known was going on.

“We totally joined in,” Kopp said.

She, husband Toby, and children Carter, 5, and Niyla, 10 months, didn’t let the crowds and street closures stop them from seeing what they wanted to see, including the Barnes and the Academy of Natural Sciences. They were disappointed not to be able to run up the Art Museum steps, but planned to picnic in Washington Square and visit the Mütter Museum.

“It’s been an amazing and beautiful experience,” Kopp said.

The free NFL Experience offered scads of hands-on fan activities, including passing, field-goal kicking and long snapping, along with a mock scouting combine where kids could test their skills in the vertical jump and 40-yard dash. Others browsed memorabilia from the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, along with a display of championship rings from 50 Super Bowls. Scores lined up to have their photo snapped beside the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

About 200,000 fans attended the three-day draft in Chicago, and the NFL believed it had a chance to exceed that number here. It did  with  a new three-day attendance record of nearly 250,000 fans, according to the NFL.

Brenton and Kelli Pearson drove to the draft’s final day from Delaware, wearing Tampa Bay Buccaneers jerseys, caps and beads. Eagles fans have long memories — the Bucs stunned Philadelphia 27-10 in the 2002 NFC Championship game — but all was well on Saturday.

“Everyone’s been great,” Kelli said.

“Because it’s not a game,” her husband said. “If it was a game, it would be tense.”

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1 Philadelphia

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