* EDITOR'S NOTE:**Former NFL running back Butch Woolfolk returns to write a series of columns pertaining to the NFL draft. Woolfolk, a former standout at Michigan, played for the Giants, Oilers and Lions and has made his home in the Houston area since he retired from football. Woolfolk's views do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization.
*Last year's third pick in the NFL draft, Braylon Edwards, allowed a television crew to follow him and his family on their journey to New York to record the whole draft experience. "Team Edwards," as they called themselves, consisted of eight relatives, an agent and a few other hired guns. We saw live his selection to the Cleveland Browns. As expected, there was lots of grinning, hugging and tears.
That circus experience for the top picks will be played out again this Saturday, but for the majority of the hundreds of college players that will be drafted, their big day will be significantly different than Edwards' draft day. These players' experience will be defined by three requirements: a phone, ESPN and food. That is all they need as they hunker down and wait for their name to be announced.
I was the 18th pick taken in the first round by the New York Giants more than 20 years ago. What I remember most before I got the phone call from them was a call I received from Raiders owner Al Davis.
"We think Tampa Bay is going to take Marcus Allen, but if they don't, we are drafting you," Davis said, always brutally frank. "Got it? Good. Bye."
Tampa Bay didn't take Allen, and the Raiders did. I went to New York. Within 30 minutes, my mind swung from living on one coast to the other. That is how the uncertainty of draft day can go.
Imagine you are 21 or 22 years old. Literally, you don't know where you will be tomorrow, living and working. It could be in NFL cities across the country from Seattle to Miami or from New England to San Diego. To say your life will change is an understatement. You will perhaps marry, raise a family, and set a lifelong path in motion there. This drama is heightened by the fact that scores of family and friends want to circle around you, creating an entourage in this great anticipation. Regardless of which avenue a player takes, there is a moment of reflection he will experience that is inextricably germane to the mental rigors of the day.
Even with all of the hoopla surrounding the players, there will be a moment of silence that each of them will manage to steal away. It can happen in a crowded room, but most likely it will happen when they are alone, perhaps in the still of the night before the draft. In that moment, they will look to their past. The four-month long courtship and parading of themselves in front of league scouts and coaches is over. No more testing, weighing, measuring, running, jumping, or dancing in front of NFL scouts and coaches. With nothing more to do in the players' trek forward, they will invariably look to how they arrived at where they are at.
A player will see himself, 10 or so years ago, as a kid on the playground yelling out to his other football friends about what pro player he wanted to be. If he was from meager backgrounds, he will remember all of the sacrifices he had to endure. Having to play with cleats and other equipment that didn't fit was common for all the poor kids. In Little League play, some couldn't afford to go to the doctor with their injuries from the game.
Others players will think back to how much their family had to sacrifice to support their desire to play football. One of the most touching moments is when a player thinks of his best friends, guys that were with him playing football in the highs and lows of the game. He'll think of the guys he played with in high school that were not good enough to play in college. And he'll think about those he left behind in college who were not talented enough to make it to the pros. He'll realize that his history helped get him to this ultimate day of achievement.
That reflection is what makes a 300-pound man cry like a baby.