In 2008, rabid Seattle Seahawks fans Graham and Chrystal Comley took a spring trip to New York City. By coincidence they were there the same weekend as the NFL draft, which back then was two days, Saturday and Sunday.
They couldn’t get in Saturday. But someone told them about a program called Day 2 Diehards. If they showed up as Day 2 opened and stayed until it was over—and got time stamps to prove both—they would get tickets to both days the next year.
So they went Sunday. It was a bit of a lark—they were exhausted after five days in the Big Apple and thought hanging out at Radio City Music Hall would be fun.
It was—so much so that they returned the next year, utilizing the tickets they had earned. They stayed all day for Day 2 again in 2009, which meant they had tickets for 2010.
In 2010, Chrystal Comley was three months pregnant with their son, Wynnston. Terrible morning sickness left her dizzy and exhausted. But she went to the draft anyway, because if she didn’t, she wouldn’t get her tickets for the following year.
With the draft expanded to three days in 2010, the Day 2 Diehards program ended, though existing members remained eligible if they kept going to the draft, year after year. That explains why, late on the third day, Chrystal took a nap in Radio City Music Hall as the final picks were called.
An ESPN TV camera spied her.
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. spied her too.
As a shot of her, zonked out on Graham’s shoulder, played on ESPN, Kiper yelled, “Wake up!”
Chrystal: “I got like two texts from two different people. ‘I just saw you on the draft.’ I’m like, ‘You’re watching that on TV?’”
Graham finished her thought: “Who the hell watches pick No. 230 of the NFL draft?”
Chrystal Hanni became Chrystal Comley five years ago. Her history in the Pacific Northwest runs deep: Her ancestors co-founded the city of Redmond, Washington, home of Microsoft. Graham was born in England, moved to Los Angeles when he was 4 and grew up there. He moved to Seattle in 1997 to attend the University of Washington and never left.
Graham’s love of the Seahawks is learned, while Chrystal’s is inherited. She remembers watching their games on television while her grandmother yelled at the TV. Soon after they became a couple, Graham and Chrystal attended a few games together, which became season tickets, which became full-throated Seahawks mania.
“She will challenge you to the status of who’s a larger football fan, her or any other Seahawks fan out there,” Graham said. “Screaming at the players. Screaming at the opposing team. Very, very vocal fan by all accounts. Seahawks gear on. When we go to the draft, she is decked out head to toe. She is not just along for the ride. She is there to scream her head off. And if you’re not doing the same thing, she will let you know.”
As much as they love the draft, the Comleys' passion lies not so much in who gets taken by whom but rather in the shared experience with fellow football fans. Which is to say, the draft is far better to watch in person than it is to watch on TV.
That so many fans want to attend the draft is a relatively new development. The NFL has been drafting players since the Philadelphia Eagles selected Jay Berwanger, a Heisman Trophy-winning halfback out of the University of Chicago, with the first pick ever, in 1936. But the draft did not become a significant spectator event until recently.
When the NFL moved the draft to Radio City Music Hall in 2006, Frank Supovitz, the NFL’s senior vice president of events who has become friends with the Comleys, worried that the NFL wouldn’t be able fill the 4,000 seats it holds during the draft.
He need not have worried.
Within a few years, he started to hear complaints from fans who drove all night to arrive early Saturday morning for Day 1 only to be turned away with no tickets. That prompted the NFL to start handing out wristbands the night before, with the line that forms waiting for them turning into an event itself. The Comleys learned about Day 2 Diehards while standing in that line in 2008.
“People see the same folks every year. They meet up on the line,” Supovitz said. “In very friendly ways, if they see somebody walking by with a jersey from a rival team, they’ll start engaging with them verbally. And then they hug each other. It really is the greater family of fandom out there.”
Like any family gathering, there are highs and lows. The Comleys have been in New York for what turned out to be probably the biggest bust in Seahawk history (Aaron Curry, first round, 2009) as well as the biggest steal in Seahawk history (Russell Wilson, third round, 2012).
At the time, they didn’t foresee either one panning out the way he did. Which is another reason they love the draft. Nobody can predict how a player will do. Or when he’ll be drafted, for that matter.
“The reality is, you’re reading 75 different quote-unquote experts, and they all disagree on something,” Graham said. “The reality is, you can do all the research you want in the world, but when you get there, it’s going to be a different experience. That first team that picks somebody who nobody was expecting, or trades down…”
Chrystal: “Changes everything.”
“Changes everything,” Graham said. “It’s an experience just to be there, and be a part of it.”
They love witnessing the wide-open emotion that gets lost on TV.
“You’re literally seeing these kids, who have worked their entire lives, they’re 21 years old, they’ve been working seven days a week for 21 years, trying to make this dream, and they’re on the cusp of it,” Graham said. “When the players come offstage, and they get that bear hug from (NFL commissioner Roger) Goodell, that sends shivers throughout the entire Radio City Music Hall.”
Chrystal loves gathering with fans wearing so many different team colors—perhaps because it gives her a greater variety of people to needle, rather than just her archnemesis (always the 49ers plus whomever the Seahawks play that day).
There’s this, too, as a reason they keep going back: Cool things keep happening to them. One year, Graham and Chrystal were standing at the entrance when Goodell walked by. Goodell and Graham shook hands, a brief encounter captured by ESPN cameras that the network uses often as B-roll.
“We’re on SportsCenter about once a month,” Graham said. “That’s our current claim to fame.”
In 2011, when their only child Wynnston was a baby, the three Comleys had their picture taken on stage with Goodell. Wynnston was fine until Graham handed him to Goodell, at which pointed he started wailing.
Last year, as the Comleys prepared to go to the draft, Supovitz called to ask if they’d like to visit the NFL offices.
“You can imagine our initial response: Nah. We’re not interested in that,” Graham said. “We rapidly responded with a ‘Yes, we will be there.’ It turned out that we got a private, guided tour of the NFL headquarters, got to see all the different levels of what they do.”
After the tour, Graham and Chrystal were taken for lunch into a conference room—the one, they say, where disciplinary meetings are held. Nobody else was there yet. Twelve goodie bags sat on the table, plus a seat without a goodie bag.
“That’s where Goodell’s going to sit,” Graham said to Chrystal, so he grabbed the seat next to it.
Sure enough, Goodell showed up for lunch. A planned meeting of 30 or 40 minutes ran 90. Goodell asked the Comleys and the 10 others in attendance specific questions about the state of the league, the draft and the game-day experience.
Graham, a huge Goodell fan, fired off answers, proud to be asked, eager to offer what he thought. Alas, Chrystal…always the most vocal fan in the section, the stadium, the fanbase…“I did not say a damn thing,” she said. “Goodell asked me specifically, ‘What do you have to say?’ and I froze.”
After their third year—the year Chrystal had morning sickness—Graham and Chrystal decided to make attending the draft an annual event. Last year was the closest they have come to not going because…
- Wynnston, then 2, was as tough to corral as ever.
- Chrystal was pregnant with their daughter, Raine.
- They were in the process of selling a business they were part of.
- They had sold their house.
- The house they were building was behind schedule so they had to find somewhere else to live, but...
- ...they hadn’t yet.
- They had to move in two weeks.
They called Wynnston’s grandmother over to the mostly packed-up house to watch him and went anyway.
“If we take a year off, we can’t go the following year,” Graham said. “You lose your ticket.”
Chrystal: “And we are not normal.”
With that history in mind, 2014 figures to be special. The Comleys will fly 4,800 miles round-trip, spend four nights in a hotel, enjoy three days at Radio City Music Hall, laugh a lot and create countless memories. Something will go wrong, as it always does, but they’ll figure out a way around it.
Now that they’ve been to New York City together so many times, they follow a routine. They’ll go to Lombardi’s Pizza and get a large with pancetta, sausage, mushrooms and tomatoes.
They’ll go to Jing Fong in Chinatown, ride the long escalator to the giant dining room and order dim sum. They’ll go to Whole Foods in Columbus Circle, buy a couple Jamba Juices (acai superoxidant for Graham, Caribbean passion for Chrystal), walk to Central Park, sit and watch softball.
For the first time, the Comleys will enter Radio City Music Hall as fans of the reigning NFL champions. Graham went to the Super Bowl, while Chrystal concluded a football game outside, in New York, in February, was no place for Raine, who was two months old at the time.
But just because she knows it was the right decision doesn’t mean she liked watching from home.
Anyway, Graham and Chrystal plan to be humble and subtle and might not even bring up that whole Super Bowl thing… Ha! Of course they will.
Graham: “This year is going to be 10 times, 100 times as good because we’re going to have Super Bowl champions all over us.”
Chrystal: “I’m going to be talking so much trash.”