The NFL Draft thrives on awkwardness. We watch as supposed stalwarts projected to go in the top ten fall further down the board, sweating, shifting and smiling nervously the whole time. Witnessing a kid lose hundreds of thousands of dollars on his initial contract with each passing minute makes for great television. There’s plenty of discomfort to go around, too – when players get booed, when players spurn a team, and recently, when Roger Goodell uncomfortably hugs giant men.
When ESPN began airing the first round during prime time on Thursdays in 2010, the network and NFL realized they would need more players to fill the airtime, so they began to invite more to chill in the sort-of dreaded green room for the “experience,” but really to serve as props. This year, nearly two dozen NFL players to be will make the trek to New York’s Radio City Music Hall (Manti Te’o declined). We’ll be watching at home, hoping for a little uneasiness to help us make it through the marathon broadcast, but until then here’s a recap of some of the greatest awkward moments in NFL Draft history.
New York Jets fans outraged the team passed on Warren Sapp (1995)
The Jets have a reputation for committing draft day blunders, causing Kiper to exclaim once, “It’s obvious to me that the Jets just don’t understand what the draft is all about.” Hindsight is 20/20, but not in 1995 when the Jets grabbed tight end Kyle Brady – passing on a few touted defensive players including Sapp – even though they already had two tight ends on the roster.
Jets fans in attendance were giddy for the team to call future Hall of Famer Sapp at nine overall and even chanted his name, but those chants turned to merciless cries and boos over the Brady pick. (At the 1:15 mark in this video:
Philadelphia Eagles fans pummel Donovan McNabb with boos (1999)
Boo birds came out strong when the Eagles picked the Syracuse quarterback at number two overall (video below). Eagles fans are notoriously a raucous, hard-to-please bunch and desperately wanted enigmatic running back Ricky Williams in ‘99.
No dice, and instead there stood the franchise quarterback with a new jersey and a chip on his shoulder, thus beginning the bizarre love-hate relationship between Donovan and Philadelphia. You’ve gotta feel for the especially heartbroken dude wearing face paint to the draft.
Minnesota misses the clock… again (2003)
You’d think the franchise would get its shit together but you’d be wrong. For the second year in a row, the Vikings brain trust screwed up and allowed the clock on their turn to expire, allowing Jacksonville and Carolina to jump them in line. The Vikes claim they had agreed to a deal with the Ravens to swap the 7th pick (for some later picks) but the deal was never officially consummated. To our knowledge, the Vikings personnel director were drinking water that day, not straight vodka.
Eli Manning fake smiles while begrudgingly holding a Chargers jersey (2004)
Taken at #1 overall, Eli spent about one hour as a member of the San Diego Chargers before successfully forcing a trade sending him to the New York Giants in return for Philip Rivers and a few picks (one of which turned into Shawn Merriman). Young Eli, like John Elway before him, who appeared even more boyish (un-quarterback-y) at the time, got to play where he wanted and eventually won a pair of Super Bowls there, but the awkward memory remains.
Aaron Rodgers waits and waits and waits to get called (2005)
In 2005, Rodgers lived the nightmare of every player who attends the draft. Experts predicted that Rodgers would get called somewhere in the top five, possibly first, yet the eventual Super Bowl MVP ended up squirming for 23 picks before the Packers called his number. “It’s hard to laugh in a situation when you know everyone’s laughing at you” he said recently. Jeremy Schapp referred to Rodgers as an object of “morbid curiosity” during the painful wait. In the long run, it looks like things worked out OK.
Brady Quinn goes into draft pick protection program (2007)
Quinn became the face and focus of the 2007 draft because (1) he went to Notre Dame, (2) a lot of people think he’s pretty, and (3) the quarterback class was really weak that season. The Raiders fell ill with Raider-ness and grabbed JaMarcus Russell at number one, then Quinn sat and fidgeted for nine more picks until Roger Goodell took him out of his public misery and placed him in a private suite to wait for another 11 selections.
About two hours later, the Browns took Quinn at 22 overall, the second quarterback off the board. But hey, Quinn bounced back strong with a string of EAS Myoplex commercials (video below). “Now I’m done!”
Randall Cobb gets planted at a table for two days (2011)
Sure, the scene looks lovely with a pot of grass at the center of his table, maybe a symbol of the slow-moving torture he would have to endure at Radio City. The speedy WR/KR joined a class of 25 attendees that year, the second time ESPN spread out the draft over three days. Cobb was the last man sitting of the 25 invitees, selected by the Packers at 64 overall, the last pick of the second round. Hey Rodgers!
Fans shower Commissioner Goodell with boos (2011)
Before Cobb’s wait began, before the miserable 2011 summer lockout, the fans let Goodell have it with a stream of boos (video below) as the Commish took the podium. “We want football,” they shouted. Goodell absorbed it with an awkward smile and said “I love it” in attempt to quell the fans. Small price to pay for the new CBA and a nearly $30 million package that year.
ESPN analyst Jon Gruden drops an A-bomb on-air (2012)
He said “ass.” Not a really big deal, but enough to make Chris Berman squirm and attempt to cover up the slip (video below). Gruden appeared to be reading the troublesome line from a text message to his colleagues on set, in which the sender apparently ripped on a dumbass pick. Remember, the kids are watching and they’ve never heard “ass” before.
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Kansas City’s nose tackle Dontari Poe man-hugs and nearly makes out with Goodell (2012)
How do you feel about warm embraces or one-armed man hugs? Somewhere along the line players began to feel some warmth for the big commish and started to bring him in for a hug to celebrate their joy. Well, Poe took it to the next level, and the picture speaks for itself. This year, someone may just go for it and grab Goodell’s ass.