By ALEX SMITH
Growing up in Northeast Philadelphia, I felt like I’ve spent a good portion of my life sticking up for my hometown.
I went to college in New York and whenever my Philly roots came up so did my need to defend the city. I always had to make the case that Philly wasn’t just a “little brother” to other, bigger cities.
But this weekend made all that defensiveness fade away. As 250,000 people filled the Ben Franklin Parkway and millions more watched from home, Philadelphia – my city – shined so very brightly. As the host of the 2017 NFL Draft it was on a large stage and took advantage of every star-struck moment.
Walking through the free NFL Draft experience at around 1 o’clock in the afternoon, I was overwhelmed by how many people I saw around me – about 80 percent in Eagles gear. As I made my way toward the Media Pavilion, which was set up behind the main stage on the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, I could feel the excitement of the crowd. I saw their emotion as they lined up to get their picture with Carson Wentz or showed off their field goal kicking abilities (I don’t think Caleb Sturgis has to worry). The spirit of fun and excitement was palpable.
At 8 o’clock, the NFL Draft officially kicked off. Yes, the opening broadcast montages displayed the usual clichéd Philadelphia highlights. You know the drill – cheesesteaks and Rocky. But as night fell, the main stars of the evening became the fans and how much fun they were having, much to the delight of the somewhat surprised TV announcers. Fans seemed to live and die with every pick. They jeered on NFC East rivals. And, of course, they booed. Boy, did they boo. They even carried signs that simply read “BOO” – you’ve got to give the fans credit for creativity.
Looking back on this past weekend, I think about all the work that went into making this NFL Draft happen. Fourteen months of negotiations and planning went into those three days. Thousands of people contributed in different ways to put Philadelphia on the main stage of the NFL world, and the city and the fans reciprocated by soaking it all in and enjoying everything the draft had to offer, without ever going over the line or doing anything to dampen the overwhelming positivity of the event.
This is the city that I love, that we all love. This is our home. There always was so much to think about when you named Philadelphia beyond soft pretzels or water ice. There always was incredible history all around, with cultural superstars like the Art Museum and Independence Hall to name just two. But now, there will be another image in the minds of those who watched this city shine. They’ll think about our passion, our personality, a gorgeous skyline, and a city that played the perfect host to this NFL extravaganza.