For those who devoutly follow the NFL draft, no place is more iconic than Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Most of today’s NFL stars’ careers began in the building, and draft day memories aren’t complete without the snippets of the show hall we see once a year for three days on ESPN and NFL Network.
To complete a lifelong goal of mine, I figured it was finally time for me to make the trek up to NYC to finally see the draft in person.
Every time I visit the great city of New York, I always spot the famous red and blue sign on the corner of 50th street, but I was never sure if I’d ever make it inside the building.
This year was the time to make that happen.
Accompanied by my friend Joe (a Tennessee Titans fan nonetheless), our trip began on the Wednesday before the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. Outside of VIP packages available for purchase ahead of time, the only way to get into the draft is to wait in line the day before.
The event is completely free, though, and space is extremely limited. There was never a concrete answer given, but approximately 1,000-1,200 tickets were distributed this year to fans. On a first come, first serve basis, we were left with only one choice: get to Radio City Music Hall early.
Wristband distribution (what you need to eventually get an actual ticket) was scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m., so we arrived at the conservative time of 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
We were greeted by an already packed bunch of rabid football fans, and we took our place in a not-too-far-away spot in line.
The difference between this line and any other line such as one at an amusement park? This one didn’t move.
The guards lock fans in once each corral fills up (approximately 100 fans in each group), and once you’re locked in, you’re stuck in place and won’t be moving anytime soon.
While waiting in line, we met/saw fans from just about every NFL team. The Jacksonville Jaguars were easily the most well-represented team at the draft, as about 10% of the crowd was Jaguars fans. Unfortunately, I could count the amount of Ravens fans I met on one hand.
After nearly four hours of standing in line, NFL draft reps started walking around to each group.
Wait, are we getting our wristbands and leaving early?!
Not so fast.
The reps were just registering each fan, taking down each person’s contact info, which then led to everyone receiving a draft lanyard with a code on it. Then we were allowed to leave…
…only to come back at 5:30.
After registering earlier and then returning at 5:30, we were again fenced in and stuck in line for more hours of waiting. This time was more eventful than the first portion, though.
Reporters from NFL Network, Sirius XM NFL Radio (which interviewed my friend and me) and countless companies handing out free items perused the area.
Radio City Music Hall is also across the street from NBC Studios, and we saw Odell Beckham Jr. and Eric Ebron across the street after they finished up a segment with Jimmy Fallon.
This time around, waiting in line wasn’t so bad. The time flew by and everyone was rowdy, starting “WE-WANT-WRIST-BANDS!” chants and even a “F***-YOU-PEP-SI!” chant when a Pepsi lady decided to not give our group any free soda.
It’s essentially what you’d expect from a 1,000+ person crowd that’s 95% males and 100% football fans after hours of standing in line outside.
By 7:30, we were inside the lobby of Radio City Music Hall, with wristbands in hand, well worth the wait.
On our way out, a worker offered us a free tour of the building, and we got to walk down by the ESPN television set and close to the stage.
“Man, if only I could sit this close tomorrow night,” I told myself.
Thursday rolled around, and after a full day in NYC, we arrived back at Radio City around 4:45 p.m., with doors set to open at 6:40. We were in about the same area of the line as the day before, and quite frankly, we don’t know why we even got there so early.
The tickets were to be handed out on the way in and the distribution was completely random, so even if a fan arrived at 11:00 a.m. on the day of the draft, they could still end up with a horrible seat.
We made our way into the building a bit past 7:00 and were handed our random tickets.
Our seats provided us with this “luxurious” view of the draft.
Yeah, can hardly see the stage (or anything because I’m also just a really bad photographer), right?
Apparently about 100 of the tickets on the lower level are “obstructed view” seats, and we were just lucky enough to be one of those lucky fans.
Instead of watching Roger Goodell announce the picks from the stage, we had a better view of the NFL Network booth.
My friend and I never even sat down in our designated seats. We looked around, evaluated what we were going to do, and in less than a minute, we were gone from our comical seat designations.
I traveled up to New York City, waited in line for over eight hours over a two-day span, and that’s going to be my view of the draft?
I don’t think so!
After unsuccessfully trying to execute a seat change with either fellow fans or through an usher, our only option left was to find an open area, assert ourselves, and hope nobody showed up. It was a sold out event, though, so we knew we’d likely end up back in our original seats eventually.
We figured we would just shoot for the best seats instead of settling for somewhere far back, so we worked our way right up to the closest point fans could go before the VIP seats and team tables.
Now, we were below/next to the NFL Network booth, not behind it (take THAT, Rich Eisen), leaving us with a perfect view of the stage.
We went into full “pray nobody has these seats mode” and tried to make the best of it while we were down there.
It was quickly evident we picked the right spot. Right to our left was the mini “radio row” of four or five radio stations, and all the big time media members were right next to us (John Clayton, Mark Schlereth, Jay Glazer, etc). Since we were up against the side closest to the radio stations, our aisle seats were right next to the walkway where pretty much EVERY notable person walked through.
In less than three minutes after arriving to the seat, Commissioner Goodell walked by, allowing me to take a blurry but still awesome selfie with him.
I met former linebacker Takeo Spikes (also took a selfie with him), saw Ray Lewis, Michael Irvin and actor Paul Rudd and even ran into Eric Winston.
Note to Ravens fans: Winston was the one guy I actually got to have a mini conversation with at the draft, and he sounded excited about potentially playing with the Ravens. So there would be mutual interest if the Ravens reached out.
The draft was about to get underway, and we still hadn’t been kicked out of the seats.
To watch Goodell walk across the stage and announce that the 2014 draft was underway and that the Houston Texans were on the clock gave me indescribable chills, something that can only be understood by being there and experiencing it yourself.
Remember the radio stations next to us? Turns out that was THE place to be for the night, and I just so happened to be right there with nobody in my way.
Every prospect who was in attendance, after being drafted, would arrive to the radio area about 10 minutes later to do quick bits with each station.
Long story short, I met almost everyone.
Some players were in more of a hurry than others (i.e. Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel), but most stayed to sign autographs and take pictures. Since I was right there, I figured, why not take some selfies?
As the night progressed, I went from taking a selfie with Khalil Mack….
…to taking a selfie with Mike Evans….
…to taking a selfie with the enemy, new Pittsburgh Steeler Ryan Shazier…
…to taking a selfie with the ally, new Baltimore Raven C.J. Mosley.
I could have ended up with 10-15 pictures with drafted players if I wanted to, but I limited my choices to just select ones.
Pretty much every draft pick was inches away from me throughout the night, even Manziel, who was complemented by a swarm of fans, preventing anything more than just pictures of him, instead of with.
Oh yeah, did I mention nobody ever showed up to the seats we were in? Lady Luck was on our side, because it seemed that there were more people in the building than seats, yet somehow the two seats we occupied were never claimed.
Basically, the night couldn’t have gone any better.
And as if I didn’t meet enough notable football people for the night, on our way out, I spotted a familiar face in the lobby.
Matt Elam was just standing there talking to a few fans. What are the odds?
While I ended up with the rare case of the best seat in the house, every NFL fan should try to make the trip to the draft at least once. Waiting in line for large portions of two days can be a hassle, but it’s worth it. The atmosphere inside the building as Commissioner Goodell walks up to the podium for each pick provides an adrenaline rush unlike any other.
And if you think it’s loud when the Ravens score a touchdown at M&T Bank Stadium, try being in Radio City Music Hall when Goodell said “The Cleveland Browns select Johnny Manziel.”