My fellow CSR readers, most of you are aware that I was fortunate enough to win a trip to the 2018 NFL Draft. The Carolina Panthers, along with Bud Light, sent me and Jaxon to the first two days of the draft. Panthers Hospitality Coordinator, Alex Schmidt, did an amazing job in putting together our travel and accommodations. Also, once in Dallas, she and Panthers rep Nick Kusko acted as our hosts and together they made sure we were well informed of where we needed to be and what we could expect to see during our visit. A special thanks goes out to them both. And now, the trip...
Thursday, April 26th, Jaxon and I departed from Charleston on our way to Dallas. The fact that airline seats had gotten smaller since either of us had last flown didn’t dampen our spirits. Arriving at DFW airport, we grabbed a Lyft to the Sheraton Dallas, where we learned our request for an early check-in had come through. Once in our 17th floor room, we unpacked and decided to go grab a bite to eat. We walked to a nearby restaurant to enjoy a Tex/Mex lunch that was the best I had ever had. A leisurely stroll back to our room and a short siesta had us ready for the rest of our day.
Early afternoon, we boarded a shuttle provided by the NFL for travel between our hotel and AT&T stadium. The short ride was just long enough to chat up the other fans on the bus and get a little camaraderie going before arriving on-site. A short walk later and we were going through security and entering the grounds.
AT&T stadium is a fantastic venue for this event. The grounds are large enough to keep the crowds from being too congested while being compact enough make it easy to get around to all the sights. Commercial sponsors had events going on in all directions and the NFL participation events were spread out to ensure there was always something going on in every section of the grounds.
Jaxon and I stuck close together while getting our "Inner Circle" documents and then roaming around the site. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the NFL Network and ESPN shows being produced on-site. It was great to see the commentators we all see on TV in person…especially Steve Smith. After a couple of hours of roaming the grounds it was time for us to move into the stadium for the big event.
The line getting into the stadium on Day 1 was tedious. Security officials for the event had waited until late in the day before allowing guests to come into the stadium. Once inside, we made our way to the Panthers area on the arena floor. We were about a hundred feet back from the stage and slightly off to the right when facing the stage. It was a pretty good location (had it not been adjacent to the Atlanta Falcons fans).
Once in the "Inner Circle" area you could leave but you couldn’t re-enter. There were concession stands and restroom facilities, along with a medical station all within the area.
All the seating was assigned and each person had a swag bag with snacks, Panthers gear, and an ear bud radio receiver. The receiver was capable of receiving the NFL Network and the ESPN broadcasts so you could switch back and forth between both live broadcasts as you liked. After Alex and Nick checked everyone in, we moved around freely…allowing us to get acquainted with our fellow Panthers fans with Inner Circle access. Ex Panthers cornerback Dante Wesley came by and visited with us for a while. He’s really very nice and he seemed to make sure he got to spend a moment with everyone.
Once the Commissioner came out and put Cleveland "on-the-clock", things seemed to go pretty quickly. Everyone was enjoying the scene and discussing who should be picked where. Often a few lamentations were heard when someone’s favorite prospect was taken off the board by another team. I know I was a little sad when the Patriots picked Isaiah Wynn right before the Panthers pick. Realistically, I think D.J. Moore would have still been the Panthers pick…but I tried to be real in my predictions of possible picks and Wynn being gone was a bust on me.
Now the time is here. Alex and Nick are up front leading our cheering section. Cameras are moving into our area and setting up their shots. Commissioner Goodell arrives at the podium and announces, "With pick number 24 the Carolina Panthers select, D. J. Moore, wide receiver, Maryland." Cameras pan to our group to record our reactions. Wow, look who is in the middle of all that chaos…our own Jaxon…a star is born. He not only made the shot then, he was later showing up in the NFL Network highlights. I do think I should give him full credit, he is very photogenic. Now you may ask…Where was I? If you look to Jaxon’s left you can see my shoulder…wearing my blue Greg Olsen jersey.
Consensus of our group is that this is a great pick. We get our top rated receiver in the draft and it fills a need. It doesn’t get much better than that. Most all of our group hang around for the remaining picks and then wind our way out the stadium and back to the shuttles waiting to take us to the hotel.
Jaxon and I sleep in a little before going down and having a big breakfast in the hotel restaurant. On the elevator trip down I couldn’t help but have a little fun with a Patriots fan who was wearing a Pats tee shirt. I told her, "Someone vandalized your shirt." She looked down at the Patriots emblem and then realizing what had just happened just smiled and shook her head acknowledging that I had "got her". It takes so little to amuse me…I loved it. Jaxon had backed away in anticipation of the punch.
Today we had scheduled a ride on the first shuttle of the day so we got to go to the head of the line and arrived on site very early. Again Jaxon and I went together to get our documents for the day. After we walked around a bit we decided to part ways. I was off to get a few autographs and I think Jaxon was looking for some shade in the Bud Light tent.
I managed to get a couple of autographs (Rich Eisen and Ian Rappaport) and a couple of handshakes (Jim Brown and Dak Prescott) before checking out the food court. The brisket sandwich I had was fantastic and best of all…the NFL had insisted that the prices be reasonable, which they were. Now, it is getting time to get back in the line for entry into the stadium.
The line getting into the stadium on Day 2 was much better. Security officials saw they had erred the day before so guests were provided access much earlier. This spread out crowds going in, making it much better. Inside an additional concession stand has been opened to help keep the lines from being so long. Once I returned to the Panthers area, I call Jaxon to let him know the stadium had opened.
Today the seating is open, though those on the front row the day before moved back to let others sit up front if they wished. Again there are swag bags with snacks and Panthers gear. There are even ear bud radio receivers for those who forgot to bring theirs. Alex and Nick are back and are working hard to make sure all their guests are happy. These two really show well for the Panthers...great people. Small groups gather and discuss who should be the Panthers next picks or to just chat.
Today, legend players from the respective teams will announce the picks so they filter in to see their respective fans. For the Panthers, Jason Baker will be reveal the 2nd round pick and Jordan Gross will do the same with the 3rd rounders. Jason comes by early and meets the group and then goes behind the scenes to await his time on the podium. After he announces the Donte Jackson pick, camera crews follow him from the podium down through the crowd to our section. Again, Jaxon is noticeable within the crowd. This is really good stuff. Again, my preferred pick, Jessie Bates III, is selected one pick earlier. Damn those Bengals. I still like this pick. It meets a need and I don’t think it’s a reach.
Round 2 is in the books and Round 3 is beginning. Geoff Hangartner has come to the arena with his friend Jordan Gross, so he makes his way to us and spends a lot of time. Jordan shows up later and greets everyone before he has to leave for the upcoming picks. While all this is going on, we get a special treat, Lisa McCaffrey and youngest son, Luke come and visit with us for a while. Ed McCaffrey is announcing a pick for the Broncos, so Lisa and Luke asked if they could come and greet us. How good is that? Both are really friendly and you can easily see why Christian is such a nice person.
Round 3 moves quickly and soon our pick is coming up. The hubbub from Round 2 is repeated. The camera crews, the cheering, Jordan Gross coming down to us from the podium. The only difference is Jordan only stays a moment before leaving to go and announce the second third round pick. Alas, the No. 88 pick is traded and that ends the night for the Panthers on the podium. Jordan comes back to our section and he and Geoff stay for quite a while. Our group isn’t that familiar with Rashaan Gaulden though we agree that we need help at safety and hopefully he will provide this. Again, most of our group hang around for the remaining picks and are rewarded when an NFL rep comes by and gives one of us a set of Bose headphones.
Everyone makes their farewells and then head back to the shuttles. A few of us ride the same bus so we talk our way back to the hotel. Once we reach the Sheraton, a few goodbyes and then off to our rooms and a little TV before lights out.
The end is near. Jaxon and I get up and decide to go directly to the airport and eat breakfast there. No Lyft drivers are close so I splurge and grab a waiting limo. Hell, we are going to be scrunched up on a plane soon enough, so let’s enjoy. The return trip via Charlotte is almost uneventful. Jaxon did do a little running through airports but we survived. Arriving in Charleston, we make our quick goodbyes in the jetway while awaiting our carry-ons and then head our separate ways. I hope he had as good a time as I did. Now, I just need to figure out a way to do it again.
Randy Samuelsen / aka: GooseCreek