Goodell stirs up virtual boos as draft starts clean

  • ESPN staff writer
  • Previously a college football reporter for CBSSports.com
  • University of Florida graduate

The NFL’s first virtual draft showed off its bandwidth Thursday night.

The coronavirus pandemic kept the NFL world at home, but technology prevailed as commissioner Roger Goodell announced quarterback Joe Burrow as the No. 1 pick to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Goodell did so with a virtual montage of Bengals fans behind him. Burrow, with his family in tow, then appeared to have a FaceTime-style call with Goodell from his living room. His on-camera interview with ESPN went smoothly, with Burrow telling Suzy Kolber “to jump to No. 1 overall is crazy to me,” considering he wasn’t a top prospect entering 2019.

This was a positive tone previously set by Goodell in a heartfelt message atop the broadcast.

“This is different for us and it’s different for you, because it has to be,” Goodell said from the basement of his Bronxville, New York, home. “We will get through this together. And when we do, we will be here for you.”

Goodell went on to say the draft “restores hope and generates optimism.”

Goodell frequently hears boos as he takes the podium each draft, so in efforts to foster normalcy, he brought the boos to him this time.

Before the first pick, Goodell called fan boos “a draft tradition, and one I genuinely enjoy. Let’s hear from you now.” He then cued a screen with dozens of fans booing, including NFL Hall of Famer Michael Strahan.

“Oh, come on, you guys,” Goodell responded. “You can do better than that.”

The pre-draft scene also included a national anthem from Harry Connick Jr. and a personalized message from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The draft is an event that resonates worldwide, Fauci said, adding that he hopes the sports world can experience normalcy soon enough.

With practice facilities around the NFL shut down, teams worked overtime to beef up their in-home technology for general managers.

Many team officials had at least four screens in their home offices or basements for keeping up with the draft, accessing league-wide video conference calls and communicating with their own scouts and executives. Multiple executives and head coaches told ESPN they had tech experts in and out of their homes in recent days to set up everything from generators to four different WiFi systems.

Nearly 60 draft prospects had camera equipment set up in their homes, as provided by the NFL.

The unprecedented setup had many around the league bracing for the unpredictable — especially after the Bengals and Dallas Cowboys experienced technological issues while executing an imaginary trade during Monday’s league-wide mock draft.

Asked what to expect out of the draft, one head coach said, “Chaos.”

But the NFL and broadcast partners were determined to put on a good show.

“I think it really is important,” Goodell told ESPN’s Trey Wingo in an interview before the draft began. “‘Cause I think it’s — we’re all seeking, after weeks of dealing with this difficult virus and the unprecedented crisis that it’s brought on, and we see how our health care workers and first responders are just doing heroic things. I think we all need something to look forward to; we need something to come together.”

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