NFL stars signing autographs draw crowds at Day 2 of Draft Town

By Julia Cardi

The much-hyped first round of the NFL draft may have ended the night before, but football fans still gathered in droves at Draft Town in Grant Park on Friday for their fill of mock combine drills, player autographs, and Chicago cuisine.

Surprisingly, the Windsor Ice Cream Shoppe saw plenty of business despite the persistent chill. Louella Gruezo, a friend of the booth’s owner, said the stand’s funnel cake sundae was a popular pick.

“You get the [warmth] of the funnel cake, and then you get the ice cream to offset it,” she said.

Past and present NFL players signing autographs at the festival seemed to draw the largest crowds. John Turoldo and his son Tyler, Detroit natives who traveled to Chicago with tickets for Friday night’s draft rounds, were eager for signatures from Lions wide receiver Golden Tate. Tate greeted fans from 2 to 3:30 p.m.

“We’ve done everything else; we’re waiting to get into the draft and see who [the Lions] can pick for the second round,” said Turoldo, who wore a Lions jersey and cap. “We’d like a running back, but everyone is saying we’re crazy.”

The two Turoldos also attended last year’s draft, and now plan to travel to it every year as a father-and-son tradition.

The line to meet former Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs, who greeted attendees from 3 to 4 p.m., stretched around the Visa sponsor booth where he stood. Fans stepped up to have their pictures taken and offered posters, footballs and hats for Briggs to sign.

Friends and Bears fans Nick Adducci and Mo Siddiqui had waited for 30 minutes by the time they reached the middle of the line, and expected to stand in line for about an hour. At the draft area since 11 a.m. to get their tickets for the Auditorium Theatre later in the evening, Adducci and Siddiqui had explored much of Draft Town, including the vertical jump at Combine Corner.

“Twenty-three-inch vertical for [Nick] Adducci here,” Siddiqui said teasingly.

Brenda Cralle, a Draft Town volunteer, said downloading the mobile app developed by the NFL for the festival has been enormously helpful in making the fan experience run smoothly. The app includes activity schedules and a map of Draft Town, and works as a pass to access certain areas of the festival.

“A lot of [people] didn’t download it before they came,” Cralle said. “But the mobile pass is wonderful.”

Some attendees had difficulties getting enough cell phone service to download the app in Draft Town because of the large crowds, according to another volunteer, Rasaan Liddell. He said in such cases attendees could receive cards equipped with QR codes to use as passes.

“This is the dinosaur way,” Liddell said, holding up a business-card-sized pass. “[The event] is definitely encouraging people to be more technologically savvy.”

Cralle and Liddell hoped Saturday’s rain forecast wouldn’t dampen spirits for the final day of Draft Town.

“We don’t want to say that word,” said Cralle.

“It’s not supposed to rain until the event’s over tomorrow evening,” added Liddell. “We want to just will that into existence.”

PHOTO AT TOP: Fans flocked to NFL Draft Town in Grant Park for food, player autographs and other football related fun. (Julia Cardi/Medill)