As the 2005 NFL draft officially got underway, the San Francisco 49ers were on the clock with the first overall pick trying to decide which quarterback would be the face of their franchise.
The choice was between Utah quarterback Alex Smith and my former college roommate, Aaron Rodgers. It was exciting to watch my friend and teammate on television in the green room hoping to hear his name called.
Little did we know Rodgers would soon end up becoming the most notorious example of what could happen when you decide to attend the draft. He sat there for hours as team after team passed him up.
It was definitely hard to watch Aaron suffer on national TV in that manner, but I figured that kind of disappointment is relative to one’s expectations.
My expectations happened to be much more modest.
Most projections had me going in the third or fourth round, including ESPN’s Mel Kiper, who had some really flattering things to say about my abilities in segments leading up to the draft.
Knowing very well the first few rounds were out of the question for me, I watched the first day of the draft as a guy who loved the entire event, as I usually would. However, there were some obvious differences considering I had either played with or against a good portion of these guys and came to know many other prospects throughout the entire pre-draft process.
A process, I might add, which can drag on for months and feel like it’ll never end. It’s fair to say the anticipation of draft day, for those who stand any shot at getting drafted, can be both unbearably stressful and incredibly exciting all at the same time.
I decided to make this event a low-key affair to avoid a house full of people feeling sorry for me or asking me a thousand questions. Besides, I did have a long-held tradition each year for draft-day where I would shut myself out and totally consume myself with the event. I always enjoyed watching every round distraction-free while keeping track of the picks with a pen and paper.
Obviously, this year would be just a little different.
I watched the draft at my house with my mother and father while we tried to make it as much of a normal day as possible.
My father was also a big draft fan who knew a lot about football. He seemed to be under the impression I could possibly go in the first two rounds—I didn’t share his unwarranted optimism.
When the third and fourth round came along, excitement was rising as the possibility of being drafted became more real, yet my phone remained silent. We must have made sure my phone was working 10 or 15 times that day just to be diligent. I remember being told horror stories where certain prospects were passed up by teams because they failed to answer their phone when a team came calling; this was not going to be my fate.
By the time the fifth round came around, the mood in the house became increasingly anxious. The tension in the air was so thick it rivaled Mel Kiper’s hairdo. My family tried valiantly to carry on life as usual despite the immense anxiety submerged uncomfortably under the surface. I felt obligated to serve as the voice of reason and reality for my parents and relatives.
As the draft rolled on and the rounds ticked away, my family's angst and disappointment proved to be my biggest challenge.
Then-Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan called me a few times during that period to check in on me and let me know Oakland was trying to draft me at some point. He also was under the impression that teams had been calling me all day long and assumed they were saying the same things he was.
This was a misperception I was in no hurry to correct. The truth is, my phone was pretty silent that entire weekend.
As I sat on my computer and watched ESPN’s draft coverage like I had done as a fan my entire life, I began to wonder what was happening. Had I been red-flagged by teams for reasons unknown? Perhaps it was because I only put up 18 reps on the bench at the combine. Or it could be my two-year removal from football after high school had some questioning my passion for the game.
I remember how painful it was watching guys who I was familiar with and believed I was better than go ahead of me. As the draft went on, watching players who had done very little in college get drafted in front of me became increasingly more difficult to stomach. The competitor in me was fueling a raging fire from within.
Day three of the draft was one of the longest and shortest days of my life all at once. For hours, every single pick could potentially be the one that would tell me where I was going to live and what team I would be playing for.
As I watched ESPN’s draft coverage, my name would show up again and again along the bottom ticker for Mel Kiper’s best players available. It invoked an intense emotional dichotomy of both joy and frustration.
Aside from the obvious stresses, it was incredible to see my name be a part of the draft process in some small way, in any context. That feeling alone was confirmation of what an amazing accomplishment this all was, especially from viewpoint of a lifelong NFL draft fan like myself.
On the other hand, having my name up there on the screen continuously spelled out my unfortunate reality, one in which I remained unclaimed.
As a guy who was projected to go around the fourth round, I was soon coming to grips with the idea that I could very well go undrafted. Sure, I understood being undrafted was not the end of the road for my ultimate dream of playing in the NFL, but it would, however, mean the end of another dream.
Never did I imagine I would have the opportunity to have my name called at the NFL draft, and by the middle of the sixth round, it was beginning to look more and more like it wasn’t in the cards for me.
Then, just as the sixth round was about to conclude, my cell phone rang. I recognized the Bay Area number, so I knew this could be the call I’ve been waiting for. Ryan delivered the news that the Oakland Raiders were going to draft me with the 212th pick. At that moment, I felt an enormous weight lifting off my shoulders.
If only I possessed the ability to truly articulate the emotional journey leading up to that point. I was overcome with a tremendous sense of relief as my NFL destination was finally being determined.
While on the phone call of my life, my parents rushed into the room to share in the experience, each with the biggest smile imaginable as they waited with bated breath for confirmation.
However, I couldn’t help but notice that underneath my strong feeling of relief, there still remained a sour taste in my mouth. Admittedly, I was struggling with the lack of interest I received from NFL teams, and it was taking away some of my ability to truly enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime moment.
After Coach Ryan shared his congratulations, he said, “So, we’re gonna turn you into a middle linebacker and we believe you can be the next Teddy Bruschi for us in our 3-4 defense. We’re also gonna allow you to rush the passer on third downs and let you do what you do best.”
I was excited for the opportunity to rush the quarterback but also a bit nervous about learning an entirely new position at the highest level of competition imaginable.
Ryan then passed the phone to head coach Norv Turner, who offered up his congratulations in his typical calm, low-key voice and told me to be ready for their minicamp, which was just a few days away.
I can’t remember exactly what I said at the time, but I know I was reserved in my responses. I was confused about which one of my many emotions was the most appropriate to express given the circumstances.
When I hung up the phone, my smile spread from ear to ear. As I looked at my family, the moment began to sink in. We all cheered and hugged each other before I told everyone to quiet down so I can watch my name show up on the “Current Selection” ticker at the bottom of the screen. Not only was this something I dreamed of seeing since I was a kid, I also needed to watch partly as confirmation that the Raiders did in fact pick me.
Seeing my name scroll across the bottom of the screen as the 212th pick in the draft was one of the most special moments in memory. It’s one of those rare times when the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of work is embodied in a single moment; a moment when all things are suddenly and infinitely possible.
No bitterness or disappointment stood a chance against the inevitable elation that consumed that moment.