LAS VEGAS ( Associated Press) — The NFL draft served up some special sauces to go with Roger Goodell’s usual array of hugs.
On the first day of the draft, Las Vegas stepped in to provide the sizzle.
In a view that would have been unimaginable a few years ago, the city only delivered what was most needed. If a draft top full of defensive players and offensive linemen isn’t exactly a TV watch, the stunning backdrop on the Las Vegas Strip certainly was.
And who will forget Goodell presenting an ice cube to start the whole show.
“Everyone, Ice Cube,” announced the commissioner. “come on baby!”
No, the NFL Draft was no longer in Cleveland. Not with 100,000 people partying under a giant observation wheel on the Las Vegas Strip, and players walking the red carpet floating among Cirque du Soleil performers swirling at the Bellagio fountains.
It’s not like a big party is taking place outside and who knows how many more coveted the Strip line the nightclubs and showrooms of glittering hotels.
It was enough to make almost everyone forget that there was no star quarterback anywhere near the stage under the high roller wheel. A quarterback’s name was not even mentioned until the Pittsburgh Steelers used pick number 20 to take on a hometown player in Kenny Pickett.
It was the longest wait for a quarterback pick since Jim Druckenmiller was ranked 26th in the 1997 draft. Steelers fans can only hope that Piquet fares better than Druckenmiller, who threw only 51 passes in his two-year career with the San Francisco 49ers.
The lack of quarterback picks—Pickett was the only person selected in the first round—slaught the draft, if only because of the outsized importance of the position in today’s NFL. The Los Angeles Rams won the Super Bowl in a big way because they were able to snag a top quarterback last year—by trade, not draft—and any team change usually starts down the center.
But while no quarterback was found in the early picks, there were some potential stars. It featured Ahmed Gardner, the cornerback known as Sauce, who was picked at No. 4 by the New York Jets, and immediately started buzzing online with a jeweled sauce jug around his neck and a possible Big Apple Sauce nickname.
Kyvan Thibodaux left the rest of New York buzzing with his outlandish personality when he was picked up by the Giants. Defensive end from Oregon celebrated enthusiastically with Make-A-Wish recipient Sam Prince, who was brought on stage to announce the pick, perhaps the most poignant moment of the night.
Thibodaux took notice when asked about his college career that he would be a fixture on the New York City tabloid sports page for years to come.
“When you bring up college football, I just think about playing for free,” Thibodaux said. “I do not remember it.”
Thibodaux and the other first rounders won’t have to worry anymore. He will receive a $19.9 million signing bonus as part of a four-year $31.3 million deal that comes with being the No. Even those called late in the first round will be guaranteed at least $5 million, a reason the happy faces and hugs of family members in the Green Room were announced.
While quarterbacks were in short supply, those chasing them took center stage. This included national champion Travon Walker of Georgia and Aidan Hutchinson of Michigan, who went to Jacksonville and Detroit as No. 1 and 2.
For the first time in 31 years, however, there was no offensive player in the top 5.
It didn’t make much sense for their team’s best-dressed fans from across the country to celebrate all things NFL. The draft has been a traveling roadshow since Chicago left New York in 2015, but no city hosts a party quite like Las Vegas and it seemed like everyone was in the mood for the party, regardless of who their team chose. Ho.
The party lasted long after the last pick was made. It continues through Saturday, in conjunction with the NFL and Las Vegas, to make sure even the most casual fans are paying attention.
Perhaps some quarterbacks would have been selected by then.
Associated Press Sports Writer Josh Dubo contributed.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for the Associated Press. Tell him at [email protected] or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg. write on