The most anxiety-fueled, suspenseful, nerve-wracking, emotional and ultimately explosively joyful day of the year is coming this week for anyone who represents prospects for this year's National Football League Draft.
The long "second season" of All-Star games, the scouting combine, pro scouting days on campus, and individualized interactions which constitute postseason scouting are done. NFL teams have compiled a draft board which lists their assessment of every potentially draftable player by an overall rating number and then by position.
They have run through computer simulations showing them every possible permutation of what players will be available round by round when it is their turn to draft. Debates over who to pick largely occur prior to draft day, because teams will have only 10 minutes in the first round and five minutes in every other to announce selections.
Considerable information exchange has been going on between office, our key front office personnel and myself in the last few weeks. We are attempting to assuage any last minute concerns a team may have about a player, the team wants to draft a player who is happy to be coming. The quality of that information has improved over the years to the point that I can reliably prepare a player for which teams are most likely to take him. We run through every possible scenario, trying to anticipate every outcome. Proper preparation of a player and his family can prevent anger, humiliation or embarrassment from erupting on the day itself, with dashed expectations turning real triumph into perceived failure.
Watching quarterbacks like Brady Quinn and Matt Leinart agonize on live television when they were drafted far below where they were projected was painful.
The anticipated day arrives, and most players watch it at home surrounded by their families and friends. It is important for an agent to try and share that experience with as many clients as possible, and certainly to stay in constant phone contact with those in another location.
One solution I found was to assemble multiple clients and their families on a floor of the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel. We had ample refreshments to last for as many coaches, friends and family members as our clients wanted to invite. And as many of the players either grew up in Southern California or played at USC, UCLA or local schools it allowed local press to be there to cover them. So in 1991 University of Miami DT Russell Maryland went first in the first round to Dallas and UCLA safety Eric Turner went No. 2 to Cleveland, and we also had the first QB picked Dan McGwire from San Diego drafted by Seattle, and they were all together so we could share the experience. The ability to communicate with each was instant.
In 1995, I was in New York with RB Ki-Jana Carter who Cincinnati took with the first pick in the first round and QB Kerry Collins who was taken four picks after his Penn State teammate by the Carolina Panthers. We were lucky enough to have our own room below the stage. For years the first pick in the draft would be the only player in attendance, I had been there with Troy Aikman, Jeff George and Drew Bledsoe. The NFL brilliantly decided to turn the draft into more of a marketing bonanza and extend the offseason focus on the NFL and invited a much larger group to New York.
Whether in preparation or by phone immediately after, my job is to insure that our client can reference the owner, coach, incumbent at his position, and a little about the fans and the city so he can praise them in the first press interaction.
In 2004, I sat backstage with Ben Roethlisberger and his family as draft countdown began. Draft time is not normal time. It is water torture time. Seconds seem like minutes, minutes seem like hours ... drip ... drip ... drip.
I had carefully prepared Ben for the certainty that Giants President Ernie Accorsi felt so emphatically about QB Eli Manning and the Chargers had fallen so much in love with QB Philip Rivers as they coached him in the Senior Bowl that they would swap picks. But they hadn't. Coach Coughlin called Ben's college coach Terry Hoeppner the night before and said if SD took Manning, Oakland Robert Gallery, and Arizona Larry Fitzgerald, Ben should be ready to come to NY. All my preparations couldn't counteract that. The first three picks went in the exact way Coughlin said.
Giants on the clock ... drip ... drip ... drip. Fourteen minutes passed as if they were fourteen days. Drip ... drip ... drip. And with seconds to spare before their turn ran out, the Giants selected Philip Rivers and traded the pick to San Diego for Eli.
The next possible team I saw for Ben was Pittsburgh at No. 11 and that would be two more agonizing hours. At the end it was a marriage made in heaven and ended as most draft days do — with validation and joy.
LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports.