Brown: Welcome to the NFL Draft (or Geek Week)
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Andrew Echanique and Vincent Edwards, fresh off a flight from Florida, hadn’t had time to change into their team replica jerseys before arriving Wednesday at Pioneer Court to watch an NFL Draft kickoff event.
Still, I recognized them at a glance as they posed for a photograph giving the finger to an oversized Miami Dolphins helmet.
If you’re having trouble wrapping your arms around why Mayor Rahm Emanuel has closed city streets and turned over a portion of Grant Park to the National Football League for the next four days, then you probably haven’t been properly exposed to the phenomena of Draft Geeks.
Think of a horde of 20-something white males, addicted to football and their computers and raised in an era of fantasy sports leagues, converging on Chicago for a weekend of partying, predicting and second-guessing.
Yes, I’ve read all the stuff about the NFL Draft Town being a family event, and I hope it works out that way.
But the ever-increasing popularity of the draft has been driven by devotees who feed off the wall-to-wall television coverage and spend weeks in advance studying mock drafts by the “experts,” conducting their own and wagering on the outcome.
For them it’s not enough to guess which player their favorite team will pick in the first round, they want to prognosticate what crazy move the Oakland Raiders will make in the third round or which problem child Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will embrace this year.
Echanique, 25, an events coordinator for the Tampa convention center, and Edwards, 26, who lives outside Fort Lauderale and operates an import-export business, are typical of the Draft Geeks in town this weekend.
Neither of them objected to the label as I introduced myself after a sparsely attended draft promotional event featuring some of the top college prospects along with NFL greats such as the Bears’ Dick Butkus.
“The draft is awesome,” Echanique said.
The two University of Florida graduates say they have been following the draft religiously for years but have never attended because of the high cost of visiting New York.
That’s why they jumped at the chance to make the trip to Chicago, although they have been unable to score any tickets — a common complaint among the out-of-town Draft Geeks I found roaming Michigan Avenue. They are planning to hang out in Draft Town instead, which conveniently has its own beer tent.
Normally, Echanique and Edwards would host a draft party at home, complete with drinking games based on their prognostications, which they spend weeks preparing.
“You end up being wrong a lot,” Edwards said.
“It sounds completely nerdy,” admitted Echanique.
Well, yes, but different strokes. All we ask is that you spend your money.
The men told me they are staying at the Sheraton, which I took to be a good step toward unburdening their wallets.
I also met Draft Geeks who traveled here from Seattle, Kalamazoo, Toledo and Mount Vernon, Ohio.
I asked Andy Ridderman, of Kalamazoo, a little older than the rest at 35, if there are any women Draft Geeks.
“There are, but I don’t know any of them,” he said.
For years now, you may have seen some of the draft attendees on television from New York, often wearing Jets jerseys, as they boo the team selections with which they disagree, and on principle, the NFL commissioner.
For some reason, I had imagined all those Jets fans travelling here to keep up their obnoxious tradition.
But I only found one Jets fan, Alex Williams, a 24-year-old finance manager, and he said he cheered during the only draft he attended in 2009, when his team took quarterback Mark Sanchez in the first round.
Williams, who adopted the Jets as a child in his native Toledo and has no New York connection, couldn’t really explain the tradition of booing except “usually our draft picks aren’t very good.”
That’s when it hit me: If the NFL draft stays in Chicago, that image of the boorish fan will soon belong to those wearing Bears jerseys. Our draft picks usually aren’t very good either.