Chicago says goodbye to NFL Draft until (insert best guess here)

By Julia Cardi

Lisa Nelson loves Chicago, and she loves football. So when the NFL Draft came to the city starting in 2015, the La Grange resident and lifelong Green Bay Packers fan was thrilled. Nelson and her family have enjoyed attending Draft Town with her family to meet former and current players, spend time around other football fans, and watch the final rounds these last two years.

She can’t understand why the NFL will probably move the event in 2017, saying Chicago has done so well as host.

“I was hoping this was going to be its home,” she said as she waited to watch her children run the 40-yard dash. “It’s a good, central location, and people are passionate about sports here.”

Saturday marked the final day of the NFL Draft and fan festival in Grant Park, where fans braved relentless rain to see the Vince Lombardi Trophy, meet the likes of Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and maybe watch Rounds 4-7 at Selection Square.

There might be another chance for Chicago to experience what the league dubbed “NFL Disneyland.”

When is unclear.

A week before the draft, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told a group of Associated Press Sports Editors the event would “very likely” move outside of the city for 2017. The NFL has not officially announced a site or even ruled out Chicago.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Wednesday on Twitter that Philadelphia is the leading candidate for 2017 and that the NFL also is considering Los Angeles. L.A. was a finalist for the 2015 draft with Chicago, after New York hosted the event for 50 years.

Erik Nunez, a Chicago native and Packers fan, said he’ll miss the atmosphere the draft in Chicago has created. “All the teams, every person representing each team,” he said. “It’s just a lot of fun.”

Nunez won’t miss the traffic jams caused by the Grant Park setup, though. “It took me an hour just to get from Randolph to Jackson on the bus coming home from work (Thursday),” he said.

John Cardamone and his friend, Stuart Darragh, both Bears fans living in Wilmette, liked what Chicago did with the draft, creating a fan experience around it.

“It’s a beautiful place to have it,” Cardamone said, “although I can see why all the other cities want it now, too.”

Darragh expressed hope that the draft will return to Chicago before too long.

“(Maybe) they rotate it back,” he said, “and we have it in five or six years again.”

Photo at top: Rain dampened the final day of the 2016 NFL Draft (Julia Cardi/MEDILL)