Waiting for Goodell: Fans, not just players, need patience at NFL Draft

(Erin Barney/Medill)

By Erin Barney

Danielle Fait did a lot of waiting Thursday in Chicago.

She waited nearly six hours in the car ride from Cleveland to Chicago, another hour for the hotel to let her check in, then three more hours in a line snaking around Grant Park in downtown Chicago for the 2016 NFL Draft.

But it was all worth it.

Fait was finally allowed to walk through Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theatre doors and check off No. 2 on her football bucket list: watching the NFL Draft live. She was joined by the thousands of other fans representing all 32 NFL teams with similar goals.

“This is what the true fans do,” Fait said.

On the 45-degree, misty Chicago day, the true fans were most definitely out, and emotions were running high in the seemingly never-ending line to get into the theater, which was the most-envied place to be on the first night of the draft. Fait was wedged between a non-stop chorus of “No Pack, No’s” directed at the Green Bay fans to her left. In front of her, several men in Los Angeles Rams jerseys practiced loud booing for when their team, formerly the St. Louis Rams, pick.

If she could just make it to her seat—135 stairs later—she could relax and enjoy, heckler-free. She might have if her fear of heights hadn’t kicked in. Fait white-knuckled the arm rests and leaned back, refusing even to stand for the National Anthem.

“Oh well, all part of the experience I guess,” she said.

But fans on the same level didn’t let the height keep them from being heard. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was greeted with boos each appearance on stage, and when the Chicago Bears were on the clock, it was clear which team had the biggest presence.

Christine and Wade Chan joined the chants. Even though Christine is a San Diego Chargers supporter at heart, she’s a fan of the NFL in any city—especially after her draft experience last year.

The couple mistakenly purchased fake tickets and were initially turned away at the gates. But Christine doesn’t give up easily. She convinced her husband and another stubborn couple to plead their case. It couldn’t have paid off in a bigger way.

“We got to be front-and-center with the big spenders,” Wade said.

More specifically, center aisle, two rows back from the front of the stage, in the seats reserved for Goodell himself.

“Persistence pays,” Christine said.

The Chan’s had a much higher viewpoint this year, but not a worse one, according to Christine. She agreed with Fait, noting that seeing the draft live is an unforgettable experience whether she’s treated like a VIP or has to squint to bring her beloved Chargers’ pick, Joey Bosa, into focus.

Christine and her husband even got the chance to thank Goodell in person at the NFL FLAG Public Clinic on Saturday.

Most parents posed their kids near the commissioner, but got the shot of a lifetime when she dropped her 7-month-old in Goodell’s arms. She figured they were as close as family after sitting in his seats.

“Who wouldn’t love that? Every real football fan would find the experience worthwhile,” Christine said.

Photo at top: Dedicated fans trekked 135 steps to the sixth level of Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theatre to watch the first round of the NFL draft. (Erin Barney/Medill)