The 2013 NFL Draft at NYC’s Radio City: An Outsider’s Perspective
By Samantha Weiss
For three days in April, the area surrounding Radio City Music Hall becomes a sea of jersey-clad football fans, anxiously waiting for their chance to watch the NFL Draft. The congregation of die-hards is forced to wait in various lines over the course of these three days, first for wristbands enabling them to get free tickets to the event, and then—for those lucky people who do manage to get wristbands—for the following days’ random dispersal of those tickets. Then it’s time to enter Radio City, sit down, and watch as the dreams of several football prospects come true.
This is where I found myself, immersed in a sea of people that consisted mostly of football-loving, testosterone- fueled, impatient and passionate men, in an attempt to cross a major goal off my boyfriend’s bucket list. Needless to say, I felt a little out of place and quite small (at 5’0’’, I could barely see over the tops of most of their shoulders).
We got into the city from Long Island on Wednesday afternoon at about 1:00 pm, and proceeded to wait for two hours, just milling about Rockefeller Center. The police officers in the area first told us we would have to wait until 3:00 to line up, then 3:30, then 4:00, until the official time was set at 4:30. During those two hours, an influx of football fans began to arrive, and makeshift lines began to form at the spot where we were supposed to receive our wristbands.
We kept getting ushered away, until finally a huge crowd formed on the opposite side of the street. At this point, officers began to get testy, and one person decided to start a fluke line—this caused a mad rush into the barricades, which absolutely terrified me. Unable to see or defend myself against the mass crowd, I struggled not to get pushed into the barricades as everyone surged forward.
Fortunately, after the fluke was discovered and the crowd settled, getting a spot in the actual line was much more efficient, and we were all sardined into a thick line of people that stretched well beyond the length of 50th Street. Hoisted several times on my boyfriend’s shoulders, I was able to report on exactly how impressive the turnout was. The people around us engaged in lively debates about which teams would draft which players, which teams were better, and who was most likely to win the Superbowl this upcoming season.
Employees from a makeshift NFL shop set up down the street handed out special Fast Passes, which guaranteed a wristband with a purchase of $35. With the help of a minor hissy fit thrown by my boyfriend, during which he repeatedly emphasized that my lack of height was the reason I hadn’t received one, we both got out of the line and paid for merchandise, all the while laughing at how ridiculous it was that we would beg these people to spend money at their store just to get out of a few hours of waiting. I personally just wanted to ensure that we would get tickets, since this was incredibly important to him, which made it incredibly important to me.
The following day was much less hectic and much more entertaining, because everyone present had already received wristbands and was now simply waiting to receive the randomly selected tickets.
The line was less crowded, and we relaxed as we waited in the cool shade between the buildings of 30 Rock and Radio City. Some fans booed the teams they disliked, leaning over the barricades to taunt those people brave enough to wear out-of-town jerseys (we got booed for wearing Patriots gear), but it was all in good fun.
Everyone received the criticism good-naturedly and without tension. Some people went all-out, dressed in full, bright purple outfits complete with horned helmets to represent the Minnesota Vikings, or wearing caps looking like Swiss cheese to show their Green Bay pride.
One Oakland Raiders fan had adhered large spikes to the shoulders of his jersey, and was rather intimidating in the Darth Vader mask he wore over his face. Sports reporters from various stations were walking through the lines, interviewing people and videotaping the cheering fans.
A line formed across the street of people who just wanted to observe the madness going on in our own line. A few inventive fans were even creative enough to order pies of pizza to occupy their group while they waited.
We walked into Radio City Music Hall, where we were handed our tickets—ours were particularly good, situated center-stage on the first balcony directly behind the sound booth—and made our way to our seats, where we received a free goody bag of NFL-related items like seat cushions and draft cards to log the progress of the draft. As someone who is not a huge fan of football, I was impressed and excited. The energy of the crowd was contagious.
It was incredible to watch as the prospects’ names were called by Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner; the looks on their faces as their dreams came true were amazing. Each player had a stunned, yet proud expression as he walked up to the podium, embraced Goodell, and held up a jersey with his team and name emblazoned upon the back for photographers. In subsequent interviews, players repeatedly emphasized their willingness to compete and work hard for their new employers.
To me, though, the most rewarding part of those two days was the excited look on my boyfriend’s face throughout the whole thing. I don’t follow football more than the basics, and I don’t particularly like large crowds of people, but knowing that I helped him to do something that he’s always really wanted to do made up for me stepping way out of my comfort zone. Who knows; maybe I’ll end up back there at the 2014 NFL Draft next April.