On April 24th, I had the opportunity to attend the Oakland Raiders' press meeting in Alameda, CA. It was for the 2004 NFL Player Selection Meeting, held in New York. SBS CEO Zennie Abraham, SBS Personality and LegalBall Founder Keith Dobkowski, and myself were privileged to witness the draft from the Raiders' headquarters and feel the energy from New York in an almost-first hand experience.
While most fans woke up and stumbled into their living rooms in their pajamas, searched for the remote under pyramids of beer cans or other remnants of the previous night's activities, and finally started to open the other eye to the NFL Draft on the television, I was caffeinated and ready to go by 6 AM.
In my first real corporate athletic experience, I was one of the first to arrive at the meeting room in Alameda. I would not go as far as to say that it was a jaw dropping site to behold, but I have to admit, I did feel like a kid in a candy store. Two large televisions with the pre-draft shows already on, a breakfast spread to rival the Fairmont's, cameras and microphones in the pressroom next door, and most of all, upper management out roaming the halls and passing through on their way for another refill of coffee.
From about 7:30 AM on, the reporters and Raiders' staff started to file in, accommodating themselves with the room, old friends of the trade, and breakfast. By 8:30 AM, I had met no less than twenty people, heard no fewer than 30 different speculations on the first ten picks, and had turned my head countless times so as not to miss a single handshake, hug, or knowing wink.
By 9 AM, everyone seemed sure that the Chargers and the Giants were in negotiation. How all these reporters were so sure of this is beyond me, I think it was merely speculation, along with everyone else that cared enough to watch the draft. It somehow became common knowledge the behind-the-scenes picks were going on, and once I get into that loop, I will make sure to write how these reporters and photographers know it. However, there is a good chance that no one really knows, they just cannot seem to stop talking about it, just to get that slap on the back or rear when they actually get a pick right, then raise their hand in the air, squint their eyes, and nod their heads like they actually knew something as a fact to begin with... wait, now we???re talking about players?
Back to the Day-O-Draft, at 9:15 poorly spoken Paul Tagliabue with the title of NFL Commissioner took the stage, muttered out a few words, then a few more about the life of Pat Tillman. A well-deserved moment of silence followed and his jersey was raised up in retirement of his number. I would have to say that this was the most intelligible and classic moments of the day, and most likely the season to come. Not very often will you find another human being, let alone a football player, of such dignity, pride, and beauty, inside and out, and what the NFL chose to do for this individual on the first day of the draft was at the very least necessary. I realize there will be more, but I think with examples like this we must sit back and reevaluate who we are and what we stand for. On a not-so-emotional note, START THE CLOCK!
Less than fifteen minutes later, the NFL Commish took the stage again and announced that the San Diego Chargers had selected Eli Manning as their first round draft pick. All cameras immediately flashed to a San Diego draft party, all noises being drowned out by boos and shouts. If you are a Chargers fan, you understand the disappointment, taking a number one pick that has proven himself now to be a big whiner. At any rate, Eli took the stage, barely raised up the jersey, did not put on the ceremonial hat, but did manage to smile for a few seconds for the cameras. Now are we calling this sportsmanlike? Hardly so, but the pictures were taken, the pick was made, and the clock was restarted for Oakland.
A Manning Aside
Why would San Diego take a big baby as numero uno? Why pay a player millions if he is only going to sit on the bench? Why put time, effort, and money into someone that does not want or appreciate it? Why want a player that has already verbally abused your team? Can we not originate all these questions from those lessons we learned in kindergarten? There are only two reasons for San Diego's pick: 1) Leverage to trade him to the Giants, or anyone else for that matter, OR 2) he is the top choice in their eyes, they'll take him because of pride, and he'll learn to like it in San Diego. The questions I am still asking are why didn't the Giants negotiate earlier? If they wanted him so bad, what was the problem? What they gave up is probably less that what they would have if they had negotiated earlier, so what happened? These are all things we'll probably never know, but they will always be there, and always be speculated upon. As for any guarantees, none here.
Back to My Story...
Oakland is on the clock, whispers all around, but everyone knows, or in all cases speculates the pick will be star offensive tackle Robert Gallery. The Raiders needed a few different positions besides tackle, one of them being a wide receiver, shoes that would be nicely filled by Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald or Texas' Roy Williams. What the Raiders saw in Gallery is what everyone couldn't stop talking about all morning, and buzzing about for those fifteen minutes before Oakland had to make their pick.
To talk football for a bit, Gallery has a perfect 9.0 score, the highest rating of any offensive lineman since Tony Bosellli with an 8.8 in 1995. He is crowned as the nation's best interior linesman, with numerous awards deeming him as such, and was rated the best prospect for the 2004 NFL Draft. The guy is 320+ pounds and can run a 40 in under five seconds, that alone is incredible. As far as strength goes, he can bench 456 pounds once, bench 225 pounds 24 times, squat 620 pounds, and has a 31-inch vertical... dare I say more?
OK, well here is the kicker, so to speak: The guy is smart. Is it safe to assume that his intelligence has led to his successes thus far? Absolutely, and slap anyone that says otherwise. He has received awards for his academics, including being elected to the Big Ten's Academic All-Conference squad, but let's look outside the box, passed the awards and numbers and stereotypes. This young rookie at only 23 years old right now handles himself like a pro, which is a lot more than we can say for most other big name athletes.
I know, I know, he's young, it is too early to make these assumptions, but this farm boy is a huge breath of fresh air, especially to an Oakland team that is known for their wild and rowdiness. Gallery visited Oakland and expressed his interest, but in all his interviews and pictures off field (and even some on field), the guy is smiling, laughing, moving. I look at a new pro player like this and it screams "INTERVIEW!" at me; this guy looks like a pleasure just to be around. Look at him and see a natural leader, a mass amount of talent, and a good person with a ton of desire to succeed. With all the hubbub going on with Manning and his sour cockiness, how would you feel as a fan having that guy as a new addition to your beloved ball club?
If I were a NY Giants fan, which I am not, I would be downright upset about it. I felt sorry for the Giants, but only for about a minute, I have a hard time feeling sorry for actions based on lack of moral. Is Manning worth all that hassle this year, PLUS losing a first round pick next year? Heeeeeell no..... These tangents are killing me!
The Raiders pick Gallery, it is announced, the crowd in New York is cheers all around and so is the Raiders' headquarters. Out he walks, looking sharp in the largest suit I have ever seen. The man of that 15 minutes puts on the hat, holds up the jersey, and displays a genuinely happy, toothy smile. As speculated, the press, among others around exchange handshakes and knowing nods, like they really knew what the pick would be.
Maybe they did, maybe they figured this was the best choice and that is whom their club would pick. Maybe they did not even read about the guy until that morning, and I can guarantee this was the case for a select few in the room. No matter what, everyone is satisfied, and we are all ushered in to the press room.
Norv Turner, Head Coach of the Raiders, take the stage, and once all cameras are done being toyed with, states how pleased he is with acquiring Gallery, then opens it up for questions. The questions are asked by members of the press, basic ones about his abilities, if he will start, etc. etc.
Then it gets a little more "out there," with questions of his upbringing, ranging to his favorite activity on his farm to his favorite animal. Norv defers most with a "we'll see", which is the absolute truth, nothing is guaranteed in this sport, or any for the matter... unless the world decides to drop all other athletic events and follow boxing and Don King. Just as Norv leaves the stage, Arizona announces their pick of Larry Fitzgerald. I do not hear a single murmur of disapproval around, the Oakland team and fans are proud of their pick and will stick with him.
Just as we head back into what is better known as "the room with all the food", the Giants announce their selection of Phillip Rivers, another top quarterback, thought by many to be interchangeable with Manning. Good pick, solid pick, smart by the Giants, in all ways, especially in those involving the Charges... sure enough, the fifth pick of the day is by the Washington Redskins selecting Shaun Taylor.
Immediately following this minuet announcement, Paul gives us the news we have all been waiting for: The Giants take Eli Manning, and only Eli Manning. In return, the Charges take Rivers, another Giant's fifth round pick this year, their first round pick next year, as well as another fifth round pick next year. Is it me, or did the Giants lose a lot more than they probably intended? Nice work San Diego, well done. I was thinking this whole time that the Chargers were complete fools for taking Manning, who looks to me like a disease of a player, but they wanted to get rid of him the whole time, and they did in a beautifully orchestrated way. Applause all around.
Once the big names go, about the top ten seeds, all the members of the press and Raiders management start paying a little less attention to the draft, start conversing more with one another, and figuring out how they feel about all the picks going down. My eyes start to not be so wide, and the adrenaline by now is pretty much gone. All the reporters started to funnel out, and me? I felt the big stories were pretty much over by about 2 PM.
Besides the big stories of Manning and Gallery, my interests followed seeing where Stephen Jackson would go (and he went WAY too late in the draft), what Green Bay would do, and of course, I had to follow my beloved Seahawks. Although I???m still struggling with the Shawn Springs trade, I swear my boys just keep getting smarter! So for this year, I will be anxiously awaiting each and every performance by Rice, Gallery, and newly acquired Warren Sapp.
I am looking forward to seeing Oakland start to play so they will be second to last in next year's draft, rather than second in to first again. I do not plan to miss seeing Brett Favre continue to be my hero, Manning amount to not everything they thought he would, Rivers a stud, and my Seahawks win the Superbowl.
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