Friday, May 7, 2021

A Unique Draft Experience

 BY SCOTT MORGANROTH 

On Thursday, April 29, 2021 at Hard Rock Stadium, I covered the Miami Dolphins Draft Party.

Over the years, I have covered the NFL Draft for the Dolphins from 1982-83, the Detroit Lions during the 1990’s and the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2019.

Working with Hall of Fame Coach Don Shula was an experience in itself for a young 19-year-old writer. I learned a lot from the coach as well as the local media. 

I have to admit that I was intimidated by Shula initially but by the end of the draft, I got more acclimated with Shula and the surroundings of Biscayne College.

The Detroit Lions experience was much easier since I was more relaxed in my late 20’s into my mid 30’s. I would get to the Pontiac Silverdome at 7 AM and leave by Midnight on Saturday. On Sunday, I returned at 7 AM and left the Silverdome by 8 PM. The Lions made sure we had plenty of food all weekend.

The Lions had all the press releases and draft guides we needed. I met a lot of great colleagues and worked with them during the season.

The Public Relations Staff was a dream team with Bill Keenist, Mike Murray and James Petrylka Sr. They helped us anyway they could.

The main head coaches I worked with were Wayne Fontes and Bobby Ross.

They were as different as two people could be. 

Fontes was a colorful, cigar smoking character who had the most amazing quotes. Everyone loved him. At Barry Sanders Hall of Fame Induction in 1999, Fontes was there. Fontes also made his assistant coaches available to us.

I’ll never forget the one time when he made a blockbuster trade with the New Orleans Saints by dealing Detroit’s 1993 first round pick, eighth overall, for linebacker Pat Swilling. Fontes wanted a dominant pass rusher and he got his man. 

Meanwhile, New Orleans drafted offensive tackle Willie Roaf with the pick. 

Swilling did lead the Lions to the playoffs in his two years with the club. 

Roaf played nine seasons with the Saints and would get inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

After Fontes, I worked with Bobby Ross. While he didn’t possess the pizazz as Fontes, he was still very polite and gave straight answers and demonstrated his high football IQ.

The Jacksonville experience was interesting in it’s own way. I stayed up there for a weekend. 

The Jaguars lead PR person was Dan Edwards. His entire staff was very hospitable. By this time, all of the information on the players could be found online, thus, no paper press releases. There were two rooms, one for press conferences and the other was a press room at TIAA Bank Stadium.

The main people at press conferences were President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin, GM David Caldwell and Head Coach Doug Marrone. No shortage of food during the three days covering the draft.

When I was sent an invite by the Dolphins, I thought I would be covering the event as I had in the past. But that would not be the case. The invitation came from the marketing department to cover the Draft Party. 

One of the ladies apologized to me by saying that she was sorry I got the wrong idea. I told her that wasn’t necessary and I was happy to be there. Thanks for inviting us.

Instead of talking to the coaches and media, who were at the teams offices in Davie, FL., I decided to go on the field and take tons of pictures. People watching at its best. 

The party featured a live stage show with live analysis from Dolphins analysts and conversations with current players, alumni and special guests throughout the night. It was also streamed on You Tube Live.

The fans could see the NFL Network and ESPN Broadcast from TV’s around the stadium. 

The photos in this story certainly create a clear picture of what this event was all about.

As for the Media that did cover the event, the Dolphins placed us in the photographers room near the tunnel that leads to the field. They also provided us with a press meal in lunch boxes and drinks.

The primary media that did cover the event was from the local television stations.

If I wanted to be around the fans, I could go onto the field. If I didn’t, I stayed in our area and they had the draft on televisions. I enjoyed talking football with the local anchors in our room.

The Miami Dolphins had two first round selections. One was used on Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle while the other pick was DE Jaelan Phillips, who played locally with the Miami Hurricanes. I would go on the field and listened to the reaction of the fans when both picks were announced. You could definitely feel the energy and enthusiasm on the field.

One intriguing thing for me was watching the Dolphins pick sixth overall and the Lions picked seventh. Ironically, Detroit Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell was the Dolphins interim head coach in 2015 and had a 5-7 record. Thus, the fans cheered when the Lions made their pick because of their loyalty to Campbell.

One highlight for me was meeting NBC 6 Sports Anchor Ruthie Polinsky since she is a University of Michigan graduate. We enjoyed talking about the Maize and Blue. She’s a truly remarkable person and an extremely talented broadcaster. She did appear on stage.

After the Dolphins made their final selection, the crowds left and I headed home. 

While there would be no coaches, executives or players to talk to, just my media colleagues, this was “A Unique Draft Experience “ and one that I’ll never forget.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at southfloridatribune@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth. 

To see his broadcasts, subscribe for free to The South Florida Tribune You Tube Channel.

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