Steinberg: NFL Draft is special

What was a private, low key NFL Draft 30 years ago, has become a three-day sponsored and promoted Ramadan of the annual player selection.

What you didn't see was the excruciating tension the college players and their friends and families are experiencing in homes across the country. I have been fortunate to have represented over 60 first-round draft picks, eight of whom were the very first pick in the first round. I have also spent almost 40 years sharing this penultimate moment of pressure followed by joy at players' homes and in New York.

It takes a village to create a potential pro football player. The players represent the hopes and dreams of Pop Warner, high school and college coaches and family, friends and community that have been involved in the player's evolution. This provides a large rooting section that descends on an athletes' home to share the unique night. Those players judged to be high first-round picks are invited to New York with family members. They take a boat trip around Manhattan, are treated to Broadway shows and parties, and take part in the extraordinary pre-draft television and sponsor promotions.

The players in New York sit at tables in a room just off stage where cameras broadcast every emotion and detail. I spent weeks prior to the draft interacting with teams at the top of the draft attempting to discern which franchise was most likely to take a player. I would sit with the draft order and show a player the most likely scenarios.

For a players like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III the New York experience is a cakewalk. The Colts had already publicly announced they were picking him. RG3 knew Washington would take him with the second pick.

For the remainder of the picks the time is torture. Draft time is not real time, it is Chinese torture time. Each second feels like a minute, each minute like an hour, the wait is agonizing. If a player is not selected in the spot he anticipates, depression and uncertainty set in. Watching the other players being picked and go on stage to hold up a team jersey and be photographed with the commissioner is a bittersweet moment.

When I sat with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 I had carefully prepared him to expect the Chargers to trade their pick to the New York Giants. I told him the Giants would take QB Eli Manning, the Chargers QB Philip Rivers. The first two teams in the draft order I thought likely to take Ben a little later were Buffalo and Pittsburgh. But the Giants had told Ben's coach that if the Chargers took Eli Manning they would take Ben as the fourth pick.

The Chargers picked Manning which meant that scenario could come to fruition, but I still thought the trade would happen. The minutes passed oh so slowly which ratcheted tension to an excruciating level. No trade was announced until all but seven seconds remained on the clock, and then as they were about to lose the pick the Comissioner announced that the Giants had swapped picks with the Chargers, taken Manning and the Chargers had taken Rivers.

A deflated darkness settled over our table and the drip, drip, drip of other selections took two hours. Finally Pittsburgh took Ben and the table erupted in exultation. All was forgotten, and Pittsburgh and Ben turned out to be a match made in heaven. But those two hours saw the sprouting of gray hairs, young men turning old and drip, drip, drip.

Notwithstanding how late a player is picked, that moment is the culmination of years of practice, sacrifice, and yearning and pure joy ensues. Tears flow, emotional bear hugs break out, prayers of thanks are given, and all's right in the world.

The greatest local highlight is always watching Paul Salata walk to the podium and announce the final pick. That player becomes the recipient of a week of excitement and joy because he has won the "Lowsman Trophy" and will be feted during Irrelevant Week in Newport Beach.

The annual Irrelevant Week banquet, planned by irrepressible and hilarious Paul and his daughter Melanie Salata-Fitch, is one of the more rollicking, fun experiences of the year.

Quarterback Chandler Harnish of Northern Illinois will receive this honor in June.

The NFL Draft, filled with tension and passion, has always been one of my favorite days of the year. I hope to be back in New York sitting with a top draft pick next year.

LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports or

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