By Eric Clark
For the first time in a half-century, the NFL Draft is returning to Chicago – and will look markedly different than it did in December 1963 when it was held at the old Sheraton Hotel, now the Intercontinental Chicago, 505 N. Michigan Ave. A fan festival dubbed Draft Town in Grant Park will accompany the 2015 version of the NFL’s spring ritual and will include a gold-carpet ceremony, player interviews and autograph sessions, a color-changing fountain, flag-football games, a concert, and more.
But with all the action in Roosevelt University’s Auditorium and the 900,000 square feet of fan-festival space across the street in Grant Park, how exactly will all this work?
Don’t fret. We’ll break it all down for you.
The NFL Draft had operated in New York City since that last time in Chicago, which technically was the 1964 draft. But a second straight year of scheduling conflicts at Radio City Music Hall convinced NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that it was time to try another city for 2015.
The top two quarterback prospects (Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota) in the 2015 NFL Draft will won’t be in Chicago for the event. They will watch at home with their respective families. Standout receiver Amari Cooper from Alabama also will skip the festivities, but it’s unclear why. Twenty-seven top prospects are expected to attend.
At 5 p.m. Thursday, the prospects will walk the gold carpet on Michigan Avenue and head into Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theatre for the first round of the draft. There, they will await their selections.
All 32 teams will have draft tables in Selection Square within Draft Town at Congress Plaza, where only the 1,000 fans who won the NFL’s free ticket lottery will have access. (The rest of Draft Town will be open to everyone.)
The real decision-makers won’t be there, though.
Team officials will gather at their normal facilities at home, make their selections and relay the information to representatives at those Selection Square tables.
The reps will dispatch the information across the street to the Auditorium Theatre.
Goodell will announce each pick in Round 1 from the stage at the auditorium.
When the of each player who is present is announced, he will walk on stage to meet Goodell and pose with his new team’s No. 1 jersey. The 2,800 fans who won that free-ticket lottery will likely overreact with cheers and boos.
The pick will conduct some interviews at the auditorium and eventually make his way to Selection Square at Congress Plaza and address the fans.
If inclement weather strikes, large portions of Draft Town will be under an enclosed roof on the far ends of Grant Park, according to a graphic released by the NFL.
According to the National Weather Service (weather.gov), here is the forecast:
Thursday night: Low 42.
Friday: High 63.
Friday night: Low 50.
Saturday: High 70.
Saturday night: Low 56 (slight chance of showers/thunderstorms).
The Later Rounds
The selection process will be similar Friday night for Rounds 2 and 3, although the players who attended Thursday night hope to be chosen by then. Instead of Goodell announcing the picks, however, each team will have a former star announce its choices at the Auditorium Theatre. Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus, drafted by the Bears 50 years ago, will read Chicago’s selections.On Saturday, during rounds 4-7, the draft will be conducted in Draft Town instead of the auditorium. Picks will be announced at Selection Square and from team facilities around the country, as well as other locations in their respective towns.
The inaugural Draft Town
Draft Town will be open to the public 4-10 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. No tickets are needed, and admission is free.
If you didn’t win Auditorium Theatre or Selection Square tickets via the NFL’s ticket lottery, you can register at Draft Town for a stand-by list should one-day tickets become available.
To cap the three-day event, former “American Idol” champion Phillip Phillips will headline a concert Saturday night in Draft Town. He is scheduled to perform at 8 p.m., although other acts will start playing at 5 p.m.
Admission again is free.