The first call came at the beginning of the fourth round.
Sitting at the kitchen table at my parents' place in suburban Chicago during the 2000 NFL draft, I made my way through the small family gathering and picked up the phone sitting in the next room.
It was the Steelers.
They were checking to see if I was by the phone, as they were coming up on the clock in the fourth round. I was going to be their guy, the next pick. And I would be headed to Pittsburgh.
But the pick came and went—with no call.
There were no high-fives, no beers being passed around, no party on the back deck and no tears from mom.
About 10 minutes later, the phone started ringing again. And this time it was the Cowboys calling from down in Dallas.
The same drill, with the same instructions. Sit by the phone and wait until they were ready to make their pick in the fourth.
But (again) the selection flashed up on the TV screen right in front of me, and I wasn’t the guy.
All of those emotions—and the anticipation—of getting the call were erased in a few seconds.
I had tried to visualize how the weekend would play out when I drove back from Iowa City on Friday afternoon in my ’86 Bronco II that topped out at about 68 miles per hour.
After playing ball for four years at Iowa under Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz, I had expected to be drafted by the end of the fourth round. I really did. And I thought those were reasonable expectations.
Sure, I had held out hope that the phone would ring on Saturday at some point during the third round. Instead, I went to bed that night nervous and even a little scared.
When (and where) would I be drafted? Did I over-evaluate my own talent, my own abilities as a player?
But, now, as I sat there while the draft moved into the fifth round, I started to worry. Why isn’t the phone ringing? Should I call my agent? Will I even get drafted?
I started to pace around the house.
Up and down the stairs. In and out of the kitchen. Down to the basement. Out on the front porch. Back to the deck. Into the front room.
Panic was setting in.
The Buildup to Draft Day
The draft process is long, exhausting and drawn out for prospects as they wait for the picks to start coming off the board.
From the stars of the 2014 class such as Jadeveon Clowney, Johnny Manziel and Sammy Watkins to the seventh-round picks who finally get the call before the draft closes the doors on another year, this process can whip your butt both physically and mentally.
We all know the college tape, the actual game film, is the No. 1 tool for pro scouts to grade prospects and project how their skill set fits at the NFL level.
However, that’s just the starting point for these young kids, as they begin to train immediately after the season for the NFL Scouting Combine, pro days and individual workouts on campus as pro teams send them through the multiple steps of the evaluation process.
And that doesn’t include a week of high-level competition at the Senior Bowl, East-West Shrine Game, etc., in front of scouts, coaches and general managers lining the field to watch every single rep.
Man, this thing will wear you down.
I went to the Hula Bowl in Maui, tested at the combine, ran back on campus for my pro day and was put through individual workouts in Iowa City by secondary coaches in the NFL.
Go get the deep ball, plant and drive, break at 90, open and run, etc., etc.
And then, well, it stops—suddenly.
There are no more drills, 40 times and 15-minute interviews where you sit down with a head coach, scout or even a priest (as I did when I talked with the Dolphins back at the combine).
Now it’s time to wait and listen for the draft chatter, the rumors or the talk that comes from your agent as he relays info from league sources.
Stock up one day. And then down the next.
As a prospect, you hear the talk. Maybe it comes from your friends, your family, your teammates or your college girlfriend.
Regardless of the source, the time leading up to the draft can put knots in your stomach, and you never really feel settled or relaxed.
Heck, I even went out and bought Mel Kiper’s draft guide (instead of searching for news on dial-up Internet in my off-campus apartment) to find out what he was saying about me.
Where did Mel grade me? Was I first-day guy or a second-day guy? And who did he compare me to as a safety?
By the eve of the draft, the anticipation is greater than any game you have ever played—because that nervous energy is real.
After months of workouts and testing, it’s finally time to find out what the NFL really thinks of you.
The Start of the Sixth Round
My agent, Jack Bechta, called about 10 picks into the sixth round. It was time to talk about the possibility of going undrafted.
Undrafted? You gotta be kidding me.
I started replaying everything in my head to figure out what had gone wrong. And then I started to question my abilities as a player.
Maybe I just didn’t have the talent to play pro ball.
After talking with Jack, I headed upstairs to my parents' room. By then, I was taking practice swings with my high school baseball bat I had found in the basement to pass the time.
Hey, I was trying anything to take my mind off of the fact that I was still on the board, still waiting for a call (from any team, from any coach) at that point of the draft.
But by pick No. 190, I was losing hope. And I can’t lie about that.
Picks were now coming off the board so quickly that the draft would be over soon. Name after name. More sixth-round picks finding a home, or an opportunity, to play some ball in the show.
And then the phone rang.
Pick No. 198
I let it go to three rings, almost four, before I picked the phone up and listened in while tucked away upstairs at the house.
“Matt, this is Peter Giunta, the defensive coordinator for the Rams,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “We just drafted you.”
That’s what I will always remember from taking that call. There were no tears, no emotions that are made for TV.
I had the ability to breathe normally again and slowly move that knot out of my stomach that had been there since I crossed the Mississippi River a couple of days ago on my way home.
Did it go as planned? Not even close. But, heck, I was going to have the opportunity to play in the pros for the defending Super Bowl champs.
Warner, Faulk, Pace, Bruce, Holt…
Within a couple of minutes, my name flashed across the screen on ESPN and the kitchen erupted below me.
I ran downstairs, hugged my mom, grabbed a beer from my old man’s fridge packed with Old Style cans and joined the small party taking place around the kitchen table.
During the celebration, the high-fives and the cold domestic beers, I looked back at the TV to see the next pick flash across the screen at No. 199.
It was that quarterback from Michigan…Tom Brady.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
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