Question: What do the following things have in common?
Answer: They all helped produce unforgettable Draft days.
The NFL Draft is a tradition unlike any other. Oh wait, that's actually the Masters… But you get my point.
Anyway, this year marks the 73rd annual "Player Selection Meeting" and 44th consecutive time the event takes place in New York City. Certainly, it's safe to say the NFL Draft has become a phenomenon. Its popularity has grown enormously over the past 20 years. Even in December – well before the Super Bowl is played – the Draft creeps into the spotlight, and anticipation for April starts to grow. Fueled by the excitement of what's to come, months of hype, analysis and speculation flood sports pages, Web sites and airwaves.
But the Draft is more than enthusiasm and expectation. It's more than fans huddling around a TV as they watch their favorite team select its favorite prospects. It's more than coaches and personnel staffs filling rosters, hoping they'll lay a sturdy foundation for the future.
To the players plucked from the collegiate ranks and thrust onto the professional scene, Draft day is a life-changing event. It's a time when dreams come true and – at the risk of sounding really cheesy – memories are made.
And because most of us will never have our names flash on TV while Commissioner Goodell announces our future employer, I thought it'd be exciting to ask several Ravens what Draft day meant to them. What was their emotion? What were they thinking? How did they handle it? What were they doing when Ozzie Newsome called to say Baltimore had handpicked them?
So, I sat down with Haloti Ngata, Mark Clayton, Adam Terry and Jason Brown. They all shared their Draft day memories. Though some were serious and others comical, each player's story had something in common – it was unforgettable. Here's what they had to say:
Haloti Ngata – 2006 Draft, 1st Round (12th Overall)
After a stellar junior season at Oregon, Ngata declared for the NFL Draft. He knew he could play professionally – and had many scouts predicting him to be a first-round talent – yet Ngata had additional motivation to make the jump. His mother, Olga, had been battling diabetes and kidney disease for quite some time. Knowing an NFL salary would help his family pay for her expensive medical treatments, Ngata entered the Draft.
But sadly, just three weeks after he declared eligible, Olga passed away from her illnesses. Making things even more difficult was that Ngata's father, Solomone, wasn't there to help console the family. Just four years earlier, he died tragically in a car crash.
As Draft day approached, a heavy heart continuously weighed down Ngata. Even when the defensive-minded Ravens traded up a spot to nab him, Ngata had mixed emotions coursing though his body.
"It was a bittersweet moment," he said, noting that over 200 friends and family members gathered to watch the Draft at ESPNZone in Las Vegas, where his brothers lived. "I was so happy to make it to the NFL, but with my parents not being there, it was hard. I wanted them to be there so they could enjoy that feeling and moment with me. My brothers and sisters were there, and they knew what I was feeling. So I was glad they could at least experience it."
Along with his family, Ngata was proud he attained a goal for which he had zealously worked. Still, he knew being drafted was just the beginning.
"It was like, 'I made it, but I am not done.' My high school coach, who I'm very close to, told me something when I was young. It's always stayed with me. He said, 'Good is the worst enemy of the best.'
"That has always stuck out with me. I've never wanted to just be good – whether it's working out or going to church. Good was not enough. I wanted to be the best. He pushed me and helped me realize that. On Draft day, that rang even truer."
Mark Clayton – 2005 Draft, 1st Round (22nd Overall)
On the field, Clayton is intense, persistent, focused and determined. Off it, however, he's one of the most laid-back and jovial Ravens. Having said that, it was no surprise to hear that he spent much of Draft day at what might be considered an unusual location – well, at least unusual for a first-round pick whose fate was about to be determined.
"Yup, I was at IHOP just hanging out with one of my boys," said Clayton, who was the fifth of six receivers taken in the opening round. "Somebody called me and said [the picks were moving along quickly], so I figured we should head home. When we got there, I just played video games until we got the call."
In all the time leading up to his selection, Clayton was cool and calm. But once the Ravens informed him he was headed to Baltimore, Clayton became speechless.
"You can't explain what it's like to get that call. There are no words. I was told I would go somewhere in the mid-picks, and you kind of brush it off. But when it happened, I said, 'Dang. That actually just happened.' I had no words. I couldn't say anything."
Adam Terry – 2005 Draft, 2nd Round (64th Overall)
Terry's story is crammed with confusion – well, at least for his family. He was actually the only one who knew what was going on.
"I had just answered the phone, but for some reason the TV was showing 49ers highlights," he explained. "So immediately, my mother thought I was going to San Francisco. New England originally held the [64th] pick, but they had traded it away to Baltimore. Not everybody in the room realized this, and they thought I was going there. So, there I am on the phone – the only one who actually knows what's going on – and everybody else is screaming and my mom's yelling, 'Ohhh, San Francisco is so far away!' But then I hung up the phone and said, 'Naw, don't worry… I'm going to Baltimore.'
"It was crazy. Everything happened so fast. In fact, my girlfriend [now his fiancé] got a speeding ticket because she was racing over to the house as fast as she could."
Like Ngata, Terry was excited, but he also understood he must start all over again. Everything he'd done up to this point didn't matter. Being a second-round pick wouldn't guarantee a thing.
"It's more relief than anything. Then you realize the time has come and that all the work just begins again. Before you're drafted, you're a big fish in a little pond. But then you get drafted and you're a little fish in a big pond."
Jason Brown – 2005 Draft, 4th Round (124th Overall)
Unsure when he'd hear his name called, Brown had been told by Draft "experts" that he was a Day One pick. Many people dubbed him as nothing lower than a third-round choice. As nerve-racking as it was for him not knowing when he'd be drafted, Brown's anxiety doubled for a reason that had to do with *where *he'd be moving.
You see, Brown and his wife, Tayeashai, married when he was still playing for North Carolina at age 20. To complicate matters, before the Draft Tayeashai was accepted to a three-year dental school program in Chapel Hill, N.C. The couple hoped the nearby Carolina Panthers would draft Jason. But being just one of 32 possible suitors, this option became a long shot, and they braced for a long-distance relationship.
"Depending where I went, we knew we might just see each other a couple times a month," Jason recalled. "That was hard and added a lot of stress to the process."
Looking to shield himself from the hoopla and strain of Draft day, Brown headed to a pond behind his house, fishing pole in-hand. He fished, he prayed and he waited. Then, he fished, he prayed and he waited some more.
But nothing happened. No call. Day One of the Draft was over.
After a long, sleepless night, Brown's angst finally vanished Sunday morning when the Ravens came calling.
"Ozzie said, 'Young man, are you ready to be a Baltimore Raven?' I was so happy, and I responded, 'Absolutely, yes sir. I am ready to go!'
"Really, it all worked out for the best… My wife and I are only a 3½-hour drive away. If she wants to fly up to BWI, it's just a quick trip. I could not have asked for a better situation, because my three years in this organization have been amazing."
Recalling the emotional roller coaster he rode Draft weekend, Brown looks back on his experience and feels he's better because of it.
"You can't count anything until it's actually happened. You can't assume anything. [The Draft] is a lot of waiting and a long waiting period. Unless you're Jake Long this year, you're going to be waiting. It's definitely a humbling experience."
Humbling, and certainly memorable.
DON'T MISS THIS
We all said goodbye to a legend last week. After 13 years of giving everything he had and manufacturing countless memories, Steve McNair opted to put the pads away for good. Obviously, McNair's retirement generated quite a stir throughout the media. One of the best features I came across was by ESPN.com's James Walker. Comparing McNair to fellow Mississippi native and football hero Brett Favre, here's what Walker had to say about No. 9's legacy:
By James Walker
April 18, 2008
Sometimes the football gods align the stars just right.
On Thursday Baltimore Ravens quarterback Steve McNair announced his retirement, about six weeks after Brett Favre did the same in a tearful ceremony in Green Bay. Their exits signify two more departures from a generation of tough-guy quarterbacks. *
McNair and Favre are forever associated with each other because they were cut from the same cloth. Both grew up in Mississippi: Favre was born in Gulfport, and McNair was raised in Mt. Olive. Both played for under-the-radar collegiate programs: Favre was a Southern Mississippi product; McNair a star at Alcorn State. Both won MVP awards and led their teams to Super Bowls. And both will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2013.
Favre is a lock for Canton, but McNair's candidacy will be a subject of debate in the coming years. What is not debatable is his high place among contemporary quarterbacks of his era.
McNair threw for 31,304 yards in 13 seasons and came about a yard shy of possibly leading the Tennessee Titans to a Super Bowl victory over the St. Louis Rams after the 1999 season. He was the second black quarterback to start in a Super Bowl, after former Washington Redskin Doug Williams. *
McNair also has more career passing yards than Terry Bradshaw (27,989), Joe Namath (27,663) and George Blanda (26,920). Fewer injuries and a championship ring certainly would have helped, but it will be McNair's toughness as a quarterback that will define his legacy.
McNair was a modern-day Billy Kilmer, today's Y.A. Tittle. More importantly, he was the AFC's version of Favre.
How many weeks did both quarterbacks appear bedridden on Fridays only to perform well on Sundays? Favre's NFL record 253 consecutive starts and playing in the football mecca of Green Bay likely made it easy to overlook McNair's gutsiness.
McNair's bursts of greatness on the field also were overshadowed by other great quarterbacks of his era, such as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. In fact, McNair shared his only MVP award with Manning in 2003. Still, McNair should not be a victim of circumstance when looking back at his history. His accomplishments should not be ignored.*
Many other media members also spoke highly of McNair's career. Here are a few more excerpts. They definitely represent what McNair was all about:
"Don't underestimate that element in the leadership that made him a special player and a winner. As the first black quarterback to win an MVP award, he did a lot to help black quarterbacks be identified much less frequently as black quarterbacks and much more often as quarterbacks."
– Paul Kuharsky, Daily Tennessean
"His legacy is clear and simple: Steve McNair was one of the toughest and most versatile quarterbacks ever to play the game. He epitomized the game's warrior mystique, playing hurt for most of the last half of his career, taking poundings and yet most often rising to play again."
– Roy S. Johnson, Yahoo!Sports.com
"Five or six years ago, McNair was about the scariest thing in the NFL. He was prototypical in how he played the game, bringing every quality you could want in a quarterback. He was big, mobile, accurate, intelligent, and played through any injury you could imagine. You could've sawed the guy's right leg off in the second quarter, and he'd be back after halftime with a prosthetic that he crafted out of a piece of the field goal post.
"But he was also physically fearsome. In his prime, he was almost impossible to sack, and he made a ton of plays that a slower or smaller quarterback just couldn't have made. He had ridiculous athleticism, but it never come at the expense of being a pure quarterback."*
– Matthew J. Darnell, Yahoo!Sports.com*
STAT OF THE WEEK
There are just two players in NFL history with at least 30,000 passing yards, 170 passing TDs, 3,500 rushing yards and 35 rushing TDs. The duo? Steve McNair and Hall of Famer Steve Young:
I find it interesting that some people have been quick to dismiss McNair from the Canton conversation. While it's true he never captured a Super Bowl ring, he certainly was a winner and one of the top all-around players the game's ever seen. McNair deserves very strong consideration for the Hall of Fame.
Oh, and one more thing: Yes, Young's passing TDs clearly outnumber McNair's. But, with all due respect to players like Derrick Mason and Frank Wycheck – undoubtedly outstanding assets – McNair never had the greatest receiver of all-time reeling in his passes. I'm guessing Young is pretty thankful for Jerry Rice.
STAT OF THE WEEK II
Baltimore's success in the first round of the NFL Draft is well documented. From future Hall of Famers like Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden, to perennial Pro Bowlers like Peter Boulware, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Chris McAlister, the Ravens have a strong track record in the opening round.
What also shouldn't be overlooked is Baltimore's achievement in every other round. The Ravens have regularly plucked standout players – and even Pro Bowlers – from every corner of the draft. Take a look at Baltimore's round-by-round gems since 1996. Many of these players are starters for today's team, were key contributors to our Super Bowl season, or moved on to sign lucrative NFL contracts after early success in Charm City.
|Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Chris McAlister, Jamal Lewis, Todd Heap, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata|
|Jamie Sharper, Anthony Weaver|
|Casey Rabach, Yamon Figurs, Marshal Yanda|
|Edwin Mulitalo, Jarret Johnson, Jason Brown, Demetrius Williams|
|Jermaine Lewis, Dawan Landry, Tony Pashos|
|Adalius Thomas, Chester Taylor|
|Mike Flynn, Priest Holmes, Bart Scott, Will Demps|
RFA = Rookie Free Agent
That's all for this edition of Insight to the Limelight. Please tune in again this weekend for exclusive and behind-the-scenes coverage of the NFL Draft, live from our training facility. I'll post a couple blogs over the two days, but you certainly won't want to miss what Kevin Byrne has to write in The Byrne Identity and what Mike Duffy will post on The Big Board.
Until next time…