- NFL veterans recall emotions of draft day
- Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward spent signing bonus on house
- This year’s draft takes place 27th – 29th April
The top young football players will learn which NFL team has chosen their services for the next four years in a glitzy ceremony.
Others must wait nervously as the lengthy selection process to join the pro ranks ticks by.
This is Draft Day.
The first phase takes place Thursday, beamed live into TVs around the US. But not everyone can be a first-round pick. Prospects for the second and third rounds will have to wait until Friday, with the final four rounds Saturday in Philly.
Former NFL stars Coy Wire and Hines Ward discovered their fate at home.
For Wire, a third-round pick by the Buffalo Bills in the 2002 draft, it was a day of nervous pacing and waiting by the phone.
“I’m watching the TV, and the next pick up is the Buffalo Bills,” the CNN anchor told the channel. “Time’s running down and all of a sudden the phone rings.”
Wire picked it up, as the clamors of his expectant family fell to a nervous hush, not knowing if it’s going to be a team owner or that “one crazy uncle.”
A host of well-meaning relatives had already been told to “stop phoning on draft day” in case the line was busy if a team came calling.
Suddenly it was the Bills coming through loud and clear — a moment Wire will never forget.
“It’s the general manager saying ‘Coy, how would you like to play football in Buffalo?’ And that’s when the tears started flowing.
“Then the head coach came on the phone — they hadn’t even announced it on TV yet because they call you before it happens — and I tell him ‘I can’t wait to get to Buffalo. I’m gonna give it all I’ve got.”
A later glance at the TV screen was all the young Stanford graduate needed to prove he wasn’t dreaming.
“Then I see my name pop up,” says Wire. “That’s when it became real.”
Ward, a veteran of 11 NFL seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, endured an even more excruciating wait.
“We didn’t have cable,” he laughs. “I couldn’t watch the draft live.”
Desperate to put his mind at ease and occupy himself on the big day, the future Super Bowl MVP watched soap operas. More than anything, it was the “not knowing” that got to him.
“Every time that phone rang, I didn’t know if it was an NFL team or my buddies,” says the 1998 third-round pick.
“I wanted to have something very small and I wanted to share it with only my mom. Her and I had been through so much in life, so I just thought it was fitting for me to do that.”
Ward would later watch his NFL selection on a VHS tape recorded by his best friend, but at the time he was completely in the dark.
Ward’s mother Kim Young He had made a huge spread of Korean food in readiness to celebrate. And then the call came from Pittsburgh.
Years in the making
Sitting on the couch after hearing the news, one of the the things going through Wire’s mind — “amid this rush of emotions of memories” — was the sacrifice his family had made.
He was taking the first steps in his professional career, but found himself thinking back to childhood days at the park.
His mother Jane had fueled his ambitions in any way she could, flipping over empty plant pots to form makeshift cones for training drills.
Family members spent hours timing the aspiring sportsman as he dragged a tire behind him, attached to his body with seatbelts cut from an old car.
“It was a team, it was a family,” says Wire. “My brother and sister were helping out too. We were all in this together.”
Wire admits he taped a picture of Kyle Brady, a 1995 first-round draft pick, on the ceiling above his bed for inspiration.
He’d look at it “every night and every morning,” telling himself, “That’s going to be me one day.”
Some of his friends made fun of him, saying: ‘Why have you got a picture of some dude hanging above your bed?'”
But Wire didn’t care.
As he puts it, “It was a plan and a vision I’d had since I was seven years old.”
‘Greatest feeling ever’
Both men call it a “dream come true,” but what did they do with that first paycheck?
“The first thing I purchased was a good old Chevvy Tahoe,” smiles Wire. “Ooo, she was pretty.”
Ward also splashed the cash, but for very different reasons.
“I played my rookie year practically for free,” he says. “I spent my entire signing bonus on my mother’s house.
“There’s not enough money to pay our parents back for the sacrifices they made for us. For me, purchasing my mom a house was the greatest feeling ever.
“I was the man then, to be able to have a house and not worry about mortgage payments or anything like that.
“I basically told my mum, ‘You’re pretty much set, you know, and no matter what happens with me in my career, they can’t take our house away’.”
“I didn’t want anything else for myself; all I really wanted was to make sure my mom was taken care of.”