Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the Eagles NFL Draft Party

I was lucky enough to score a couple of tickets to the Philadelphia Eagles NFL Draft Party that was held at Lincoln Financial Field on April 26, 2012.  The tickets were initially being passed about via the Eagles website or given away on sports radio station 94 WIP and were free...but I got my pair off eBay for a whopping $4.50 a piece.  At that price I felt that we couldn't go wrong in having a great time at an event my friend and I had never experienced before.

The perks advertised were as follows: live broadcast from 94 WIP, the ability to meet the newest crop of Eagles Cheerleaders and select entrants (the first 1300 in the gate) would be treated to a limited number of autograph tickets to get a signature or two from Eagles players and alumni. A tour of the Eagles locker room and the ability to participate in on-field skills and drills were also part of the evening's festivities. Sounds pretty good so far, right?

My buddy (who we'll call "E!") and I had been waiting excitedly in line for about an hour when the gates opened.  We came directly from work and both of us were dying of thirst, more so after standing around watching Eagle fans who were tailgating ahead of the party drink beer after beer after beer.  We made a deal that as soon as we got in we would grab a drink and then make our way back town to field level to partake in all the festivities that we could before the draft began. One part of the fun was that we'd been in line early enough to each score an autograph ticket so we were excited to see who'd be signing for our allotted time slot (there was an early and a late slot, we had the latter).

We get up to the airport-sized penthouse level which was pretty incredible.  I have never been in "The Linc" for anything other than a concert and I was on the field for that, so touring the stadium was something that had me excited and this first room delivered.  there were many bars open as well as stations for food and non-alcoholic drinks.  E! and I had the type of work days that called for a beer so over to the bar we went.  He took the lead and asked the friendly bartender how this worked for the duration of the exclusive party.  We were told that it was a cash bar, which was still normal on occasion for "exclusive parties" so over to the non-alcoholic side we which we were charged $4.00 for a water and $4.50 for a Gatorade!

So there was our first frown-worthy moment of the night: everything that you could eat or drink must be paid for.  Again, this wasn't stated one way or the other on the Eagles website or the ticket itself, but when one has a ticket to an "exclusive party" at a major league sports stadium, would it be incorrect to perhaps think there'd at least be free water and/or soda?  Perhaps some kind of finger food?  We're not cheap people in the least bit, but E! and I initially passed up food/drink specials elsewhere for the draft due to this party, so finding out that we not only had to pay, but pay jacked up prices? Yeah that sucked big time.

What also sucked was the player selection for the free autograph sessions.  With the exception of corner back Dominique Rodgers Cromartie, I can't even remember the other three options that were being offered. Where was even a third string offensive player? I know that it is just a dream to think running back LeSean McCoy would be there, but you're telling me we couldn't even be deemed with wide receiver Riley Cooper's appearance?  My pal E! and I decided to make a couple of kids days by handing them our autograph tickets, hightailing it out of the VIP level and back down the ramps to field level.  Our time wouldn't be wasted awaiting players whose signatures meant nothing to us.

Everyone who stepped out onto the field needed to fill out a wavier whether you planned on running drills or just wanted to go tour the locker room. This bottle-nosed way too many people into a single room and gave me the feeling of being in a mass evacuation scene in a summer action movie.  It was warm and sardine-like with a touch of "every man for themselves" in terms of crowd mentality. I felt bad for kids who were trapped in this mess because even if their parents were right with them, they were easy targets for being run over or bumped into by overzealous arm-chair quarterback types who were trying with all their might to get on the field to execute the play they've always dreamed about.

We didn't want to run any drills, though it sounded fun.  All E! and I wanted was to check out the locker room, wander about the stadium and then get the hell outta there to get something to eat and drink. We took a short break once we made our way through the people cluster and onto the field, sucking it all in. It was more lively outside and people were enjoying themselves having passes tossed to them via Linc staff members dressed somewhat like referees. We watched a few people and came to the conclusion that all the drills were for children.  The couple of guys passing balls to people on the field were only lobbing them. It wasn't like you were doing a button-hook and awaiting a quick spiral pass...though we did see some over-40 dude attempt to run a serious as hell route only to have the employee miss him because he was just lob-passing.

One thing that I noticed on the way to the Eagles locker room was how conspicuously absent from virtually anywhere were Eagles logos.  People were snapping photo after photo while out on the field and quite frankly, you'd never know where they were because there wasn't a single Eagle logo anywhere in eyesight.  In fact, I have to say that the view from the seats made this look to be one of the most drab and generally boring stadiums I'd ever seen.  The colors (green/grey/black) were just so dark that the stadium literally looked as it if wasn't finished yet, having a look of a structure that hadn't been painted.

The inside of the locker room really blew me away.  It was actually split with the offense on one side of the room and the defense on the other. Now I know it is the off season, but it was so clean in there, so perfect looking that it made me feel like I was in a museum that housed a football exhibit.  It was really cool to see where Michael Vick and the gang huddled up at before they hit the field and for me, this was THE highlight of our time at the stadium. 

I really wanted to have a great time and party while the Eagles had a great draft (and they really did this year), but it just wasn't going to happen.  Truth be told, I should have known better because my inability to love the Eagles as a whole stems from their ownership on down through the rest of their managerial brass.  They're just not a classy organization (as witnessed by the "no autographs" sign that was hung deep in the depths of their own facility, image follows at blog's end) and something as simple as this event shows it.  The Phillies, Flyers and Sixers all are more inviting sports franchises in this city when it comes to the fans. Whether it is a mandate or not, Phillies and Flyers players tend to be all over the place and it isn't odd to hear that someone spotted Ryan Howard at a gas station or Scotty Hartnell at a Center city eatery.  I also attended a similar party-type event this year for the Phillies and while I had to pay for the ticket, there was a limited open bar and tons of food available for free.

The draft party that the Eagles put together was great for families that brought their children.  C'mon, kids don't care about who is signing; all they care is that they got an Eagles autograph.  Kids don't care that the cheerleaders aren't the same standard as the Flyers and Sixers cheerleaders, all they know is that they met one and it is special.  As a bystander, it is infinitely more fun watching children catching passes on the field than it was balding fat men.

For kids, the Eagles draft party was a huge, roaring success. For someone who attends events for all of the city's major sport teams, I'm sorry but all I could do was compare it to the fun events I've already been to...and it just fell completely and utterly flat. E! and I headed over to Xfinity Live to grab a few beers, which cost about $.50 more than my Gatorade, and finished watching the draft on like 100 televisions.

This is my buddy E! pointing out the sign that we were in complete disbelief of.  I've never spotted a sign like this at Citizen's Bank Park or in the Wells Fargo Center and still can't even believe it exists in an area of the Linc that should only contain people working for the facility to begin with. Yikes!

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