Roman Diaz walked through Grant Park Thursday night decked in pirate gear, with a full-length coat and a plastic skull mask covering most of his face. He even completed the outfit with a captain hat, black with gold trim and a plastic skull and crossbones glued to it.
No it’s not Halloween. For the 38-year-old Diaz, it’s even better — the NFL Draft.
“I had to support my Buccaneers, support my team,” Diaz, a Tampa Bay native, said. “Everything is a life experience for us all. I’m trying to prove to the world there is such thing as a Bucs fan — a traveling fan who supports his team.”
On the surface, the draft is a simple selection process. But like everything else with football, the NFL has mastered turning simplicity into a theater of entertainment. It’s why 38-year-old men dress up in costumes and travel across the country.
And after a night through Grant Park with the first round of the NFL Draft, the NFL’s full marketing machine was into full effect. For the first time, bodies upon bodies packed — estimated between 50,000 to 100,000 — in “Draft Town” in Grant Park to get a taste of what the NFL draft brought to Chicago.
During the night, I soaked it all in.
Before the draft
I’ve been to music festivals before. Riot Fest is my annual jam for my pop-punk, emo-loving soul.
So it was to my surprise to see how much Draft Town felt like a music festival, each having their own sections.
Getting there at 5:30 p.m., an hour and a half before the draft started, I spent a lot of time navigating the set up, “up for whatever.” (Note: Seeing signs for Bud Light and wading my way through crowds of people holding Bud Light may have influenced my last sentence).
I eventually made my way to a fan tent for the New York Jets. Notorious for being one of the most passionate fan bases in the NFL, I hoped they would live up to the billing.
DePaul senior John Porrazzao, dressed in his Darrelle Revis jersey, didn’t disappoint.
“I just want them to do something positive, and that won’t affect us bad in the long run,” Porrazzao said, spoken like a true Jets fan. “Last year was tough. It didn’t make sense to what we were doing.
“Having class two or thee blocks away, I was just able to come over here to come watch the Jets make their first round pick. It’s going to be amazing.”
I needed to see for myself if the draft was going to be “amazing.”
Watching the draft at Selection Square
When the draft started, I made my way back to Selection Square where NFL personality Scott Hanson and former Chicago Bear Curtis Cinway worked the crowd to provide analysis and add excitement — all of which lasted until the Bears made their pick.
As the draft began, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made a brief appearance to announce Tampa Bay was on the clock. In his brief appearance, Chicago did not disappoint, drowning him out with boos. Goodell was also booed every time he was shown on screen.
But compared to the first four picks, Goodell getting booed was the most exciting thing to happen. All four picks were predicitable.
Thankfully, the next pick of the night provided the most excitement. With the fifth pick, Washington’s football team selected guard/tackle Brandon Schreff, a player few had linked to Washington.
Upon hearing the news, Virginia native Chris Kanpstein got up from his front row seat and ran down the aisle and back to high-five his friend.
He had that much excitement for Washington selecting a guard?
“Don’t think of as a guard,” Knapstein said. “Think of it as 10-time player on the Redskins, a player who can play a decade. Think Steve Hutichson, Larry Allen, guys like that.”
Regardless of Knapstein’s excitement, the atmosphere soon ramped up when the Bears were two picks away from making their pick. Hanson, a natural host, added to the excitement asking the Chicago crowd if they were ready and teased up potential options.
And, for what seemed like too long, the Bears finally made their pick by selecting wide receiver Kevin White at No. 7. The Chicago crowd erupted.
The city got their player — a dyanmic wide receiver that can add some excitement back to Chicago football. He may not pan out, and many of the 256 players picked over the weekend may not either, but what did pan out was Chicago as a draft city.