The NFL Draft doesn’t start until 8 p.m. Thursday, but the NFL Fan Experience will be open at noon, and there sure is a ton of football-related stuff for fans to experience. If it’s ready.
Media were invited to experience the Experience Wednesday afternoon, but with the inclement weather earlier in the week, production is a bit behind schedule. There was no zip-lining for reporters to try, and we couldn’t even run the 40-yard dash that fans will be able to try this weekend. Really, there wasn’t much to experience at all. Which is why it was oddly so much fun to check it out.
And still, when it’s all built out (hopefully in time for noon Thursday) it’s going to be very impressive, and give fans a ton to do other than just stand around and wait for their team to pick. Here’s a look inside the NFL Experience.
We were told to expect “airport-level security” at the entrances, with limitations on the size of bags you can bring in and full-scale metal detectors to walk through, with wand backups if anyone gets buzzed. No, you will not have to take off your shoes and belt. Yes, we asked.
Immediately upon entering the experience, fans will be ushered into a huge tent acting as a shopping mall. There are many places to buy NFL gear on site.
There are many bars too. Many bars.
The NFL said the busiest attraction at its previous events has been the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Fans can take a photo with the trophy near the middle of the Parkway, which will be locked inside a plexiglass case. No, it wasn’t there yet as of late Wednesday afternoon. Not much was.
The other busy area is down a ways and across the Parkway near Von Colln Field at 22nd Street, where fans can try their luck at different NFL Combine skills. Tucked beside that area is an autograph stage. There will be lines, so go early. The stage is scheduled to feature Donovan McNabb, Carson Wentz and Randall Cunningham, as well as other non-Eagles players like Le’Veon Bell, probably the best running back in football. Like I said, there will be lines.
There won’t be lines at Tyron Smith’s locker. Yes, the NFL has lockers full of game-worn items for fans to look over. Of all the Cowboys to pick, they chose Tyron Smith. It’s not to say Smith isn’t a solid player, but seriously, Tyron Smith?!? Did they think the Dez Bryant stuff would get stolen? Or, this being Philly, desecrated in some obscene way? It’s not even snowing!
Here’s a look at Cam Newton’s cleats that if he tried to wear in an NFL game he’d totally get in trouble for using. Does the NFL Draft Experience come with fining players too?
Note: There were several high-profile players featured in the locker room, from Newton to Julio Jones to Tyrann Mathieu. No, there were no Eli Manning game-worn items in site. Zing!
The light boards along the team locker room area are incredible. There are 32 that line the Parkway, one for each team, and they’ll each have an updated rundown of who the teams picked, what picks they have remaining and what trades they’ve made. When they’re hooked up, it’s going to be impressive to see.
In front of each light board will be a team cutout for fans to take photographs behind. No, that’s not Nelson Agholor’s jersey. All the teams have 17 because it’s the 2017 draft. Yes, that is 6ABC’s Walter Perez hamming it up for the other reporters, who seemed totally annoyed he was hamming it up for other reporters.
Now would be a good time to remind people that yogurt is free. And Carson Wentz will be handing it out. Seriously.
The giant screens are set up on either side of the huge stage and are visible from almost everywhere on the Parkway. I was hoping the Eagles would have taken Longlastname at defensive end. I’m glad they passed on Midlastname at linebacker, though.
Here’s a photo of all the things fans will be able to experience on the combine field. The 40-yard dash, field goal challenge, vertical, touch passing where you throw a ball into a basket over cutouts of defenders and a Hail Mary contest. We couldn’t do any of these because the field wasn’t ready yet. Let’s hope it’s ready by Thursday.
The workers were feverishly tamping down the artificial turf for the 40-yard dash. In the background, that’s a light wall where fans can run alongside pre-recorded 40-yard dashes of previous players. No, you are not faster than an NFL player. Yes, everyone wants to see you fail trying.
Yes, that’s Fox Good Day Philly’s Mike Jerrick and Alex Holley doing the vertical jump. Yes, Holley jumped higher than Jerrick.
Pretty much everything on the Parkway looks like this: Fences with pictures of cute kids having fun next to piles of building materials. Right now, this is not the experience Philly wants to show the rest of the NFL world.
Nor is this, right across from the entrance. But this probably isn’t going anywhere. Hey, at least there’s a zone to protect the trees.
Truth be told, the coolest draft experience is going to be at the Franklin Institute. Fans will be able to walk inside the lobby where all the teams will be picking. The draft is actually taking place in this room, and the rest is all window dressing, as teams make picks here, give their card to an NFL official who calls the pick over to the Art Museum to be announced by the commissioner. It all happens under the watchful eye of Ben Franklin, and fans can walk through while it’s happening at any time during the draft.
The front of the Franklin is closed, so there is nothing to do at the info desk but make graphics of Ben Franklin spinning a football. Yep, that’s what one of the staffers was doing Wednesday afternoon. And she used MS Paint, which is pretty impressive.
There is an NFL Network set-up inside the Selection Square, where teams are making the picks to give fans at home a behind-the-scenes look at the real action, but there’s nothing near the famous heart. Have you been in the heart lately? It’s so small, there’s a good chance an NFL player would get stuck in the steps.
That would be an experience worth seeing.