By: Jason Sarney
The sports Bucket List is an important imaginary item for fans all over the world. For me, a top-sitting item on said List was always to attend an NFL Draft. While that dream was thwarted last season and all of us missed out on Las Vegas, the NFL returned to a Live Draft event, this time in Cleveland. Despite typical and expected weather, the experience was a hit, much like a classic Rock and Roll song.
Let's call it Dream On, my all-time favorite tune. (So typical, right?)
As I was standing on the banks of Lake Erie, Dolphins general manager Chris Grier was comfortable in Davie, Florida proving he was the literal Superior executive in a figurative ocean of suited-sharks. While the pick analysis will come in a following piece from smarter football minds than I, allow me to set the stage to what was the closest thing to a Rock concert that I had been to in years.
Starting my 7-hour journey from just north of Philadelphia in the early AM on Thursday, it was a smooth drive full of 80’s and 90’s music as well as Miami Dolphins podcasts. I rolled up to the hotel around 3:00 pm, met up with my PhinManiacs brethren of Chip Turner and Shawn Williams and we marched to "experience" the Draft.
In an immediate thrill and prior, I had the opportunity to meet and share a word with Professional Football Hall of Fame President, David Baker. This was a pure happenstance bump-into, as the "man-with-the-magic-door-knock is such a hulking figure, he was easy to spot in his blue blazer from across the street.
He easily hits the 6’9’’ mark.
I led with a heart-felt thank you for giving us all an amazing Jason Taylor Hall of Fame "Induction Knock," back in 2017. It was after this, with literally my 305 hat-in-hand, I stated my case to the man with the keys to the kingdom for the eventual induction of Miami immortal, Zach Thomas.
(Fist bumps to everyone else)
I felt the presence of holiness in a handshake I was not turning down as he extended his arm to welcome me.
Wanna know the feeling of that handshake? Think about when Thanos put on the 3rd Infinity Stone.
What a guy.
Miami has a pair of Infinity Rings...lets fill the gauntlet.
The Hall of Fame Guardian said in regards to Zach Thomas, and I will paraphrase to near verbatim, “I believe he gets in…maybe two years, but he deserves it.” What a way to kick it off, and I will hold Mr. Baker to this, or else I am paging Captain Marvel.
Moving into the NFL Fan Experience area, I was Miami-masked and ready to mingle with my brothers and sisters of Fin Nation. Miami was well represented in Ohio, as the place was obviously an AFC North mosh-pit of fans. There was too much Bills Blue for my liking being located so close to Cleveland and both national Chargers fans were there representing the team.
I digress. There were three of them....
As the rain stopped, but the Lake Effect wind blew, I felt nothing but the warmth of tons of Miami fans mixing it up as close to where we were allowed to the Draft stage. At around pick #4, I flocked to a group of Fin Fans all decked in #1 jerseys.
I started talking to a knowledgeable Fin Fan named Isaac Quinones. His pristine Tua jersey had a signature on it, but it was not the Miami QB. Isaac, at the pick #4 announcement time said, “this is Jaylen Waddle, dude!” I was impressed by the creative mix of memorabilia signing, mixed with premonition, and Isaac followed up with showing me a selfie of an airport run-in-to with Mr. Waddle en route to Cleveland. Isaac, clearly industrious and bright, thought quick and the foresight paid off. My man was wearing a Tua jersey signed by Waddle as the Alabama wide receiver was selected, as the pictured jersey was on his person at that moment.
Thank you Isaac Quinones for the time and for helping me get to the VIP Pit!
Follow this man.
Waddle also met THE Fan of the Year Ian "Big E" Berger! Our brand new WR landed Friday morning in Miami as our guy was heading to Cleveland! Maybe they sat on the same seat?
For those following my antics on Twitter, you’d know I was faux-interviewed by a fictitious Cleveland news outlet with not a microphone, yet a spatula. I didn’t see any wires, so not sure the validity of the outlet....which is normal these days on social media.
We were celebrating as cameras were on us, and Browns fans started to enjoy my company.
(I'm huge in Valley City, apparently)
Clearly Browns fans have lost their minds, because not drafting in the Top-5 is as odd to them as nice, consistent weather in April on the lakefront. In fact, while getting a trim at an OUTSTANDING local barber shop, The Refinery, the barber said, “the funny thing is, not a single Browns fan knows where we pick tonight.”
(Razor down, as I was ROTFL-ing)
Good for Cleveland...they deserve it. Terrific people, and they really were loving us Fin-Fans. I heard more Bernie Kosar stories than I ever had in a 24-hour period.
King of Youngstown. Trust me.
Suddenly, my spatula-view was interrupted by a pull on my waterproof jacket…my guy, Isaac. My new Fin-Friend-For-Life, who I had not seen in about 30 minutes, found me again and said, “yo, let’s go!” Moments later, we were whisked away into the magical land of the VIP Inner Circle (presented by Subway) while the Dolphins were in the hole, just a few picks away.”
I made sure to document this as the 1st round ended in hopes for at least a Free Sub....?
Any who, an NFL Network camera man took us to the Dolphins fan section, where I was close enough to potentially utilize my noodle QB arm if I wanted to, and could have thrown a football to “The Playmaker,” Michael Irving. In the madness of zero 5G service in areas close to the stage, I had no idea in the moment but was blown away by the amazing gesture of my guys, The Fish Tank, as they gave me a shout-out for “The Chair” over Twitter.
No, this was not a malicious wish against me in a punishment sense (I pray), however a Hail Shula for me to sit on the Draft Stage-based “fan chair” as Miami picked. Thankfully, that DID NOT happen as I do not dub myself worthy, although I am very appreciative of the thought.
Why? First off, that chair belongs to a person who paid for it and their experience. I did not, I got lucky enough. Secondly, and in literal seconds, I found out who the man was to sit in the seat, and it was too perfect.
Many, many Dolphins fans know the unmistakable patched-denim jacket of Nate “Igor” Smith. The man responsible for the MetLife Takeover with @DolfansNYC, sat on a throne, and it was well-deserved. Igor and co-founder Michelle Kramer, are on the Mt. Rushmore of Philanthropic Fin Fans and are responsible for one of the greatest traditions in our community. That being the annual taking over the Jets home and representing Orange and Aqua in New Jersey, which is essentially a North-East-based Miami Fan Base reunion.
Speaking of philanthropy and Mt. Rushmore, the Don Shula of the charitable world on social media is Danny Johnson. Danny is as kind and genuine as he is relentless and dedicated in working with Miami legends and our fan base. His Facebook group, The Positive Porpoise, helps raise money for charities near and dear to him and former players. I had my T-P-P mask in my pocket as it was used earlier (see Baker photo) and Danny and I hung out and chatted which was something I wanted to do for a while now. It was a perfect opportunity to meet a man I respect the heck out of, and the perfect setting.
Meeting guys like Igor and Danny for a guy like me from New York, was an honor. It also was very humbling as I am nowhere near the passion level of some die-hard, well-traveled, longer-suffering, PhinManiacs.
Believe that or not.
We all shared the Jaelan Phillips selection together. While we DID want Najee Harris collectively in a chant, the air was kinda deflated in the first nano-second, HOWEVER, there was an immediate celebration of acceptance with the dozen or so fans in "the Pit," when "The U" pass-rusher was selected.
(My Answer - I liked the pick a lot - slightly nervous of expectations on 1st-round pass-rushers)
In what was a surreal 24-hours in Cleveland, and although my total time in the car was more than my time at the NFL Draft…this experience was one I will never forget. It's one I will treasure forever, and look forward to repeating, but one thing stuck out to me.
When at our best, the Miami Dolphins fan base is a community that is more like family. A Motley Crew of rock-stars who just wants hit after hit on the field and in our Ring of Honor. Hopefully, Chris Grier is about to put the finishing touches on a classic album, years in production, as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sat in the backdrop of the 2021 Draft Stage.
Thank you, Cleveland.
PhinManiacs Pick Grades and Analysis Shortly......