NFL draft like a spectacular county fair for the football-obsessed

ARLINGTON, TEXAS -- Thirty-two teams, several hundred players and nearly infinite storylines. After months of evaluating, debating, posturing, posing, and proposing, it was time to finally get down to business and actually experience the NFL draft. But with such a sprawling event drawing together such disparate groups as NFL and college football fans, where does one begin?

Probably in a rideshare.

There's a wide expanse of Texas prairie between the skyline of downtown Dallas and the landing site of the spaceship known as AT&T stadium. Riding the 20-mile route alongside the west fork of the Trinity River gives you plenty of time to strike up conversation.

There was Mike, who was some combination of Jimmy the Cab Driver, Forrest Gump and Mary Hart. A relatively recent transplant to the Metroplex, Mike was raised in Los Angeles and had a personal story for every topic I brought up. To wit, he claims to have once gotten stoned with Harrison Ford and partied with former Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss. I don't believe those happened on the same day but I can't be totally sure.

Mike has football takes, too. He knows the family of Sam Darnold's girlfriend and thinks Darnold is a really nice kid. Oh ... and his uncle, Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds, played 15 NFL seasons -- including 11 with the Los Angeles Rams and won a pair of Super Bowls in the early 1980s with the San Francisco 49ers. Reynolds' time in L.A. ended acrimoniously and a young Mike became taken with the DeBartolo family and how they ran their operation. No, he hasn't met Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. but he has met Carmen Policy. So there's that.

Of course, being in Dallas, there are plenty of people with football thoughts -- especially when it comes to the Cowboys. There was the woman whose husband was a contractor who did some work for Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Or the guy, who only wanted to chat about Jason Witten's potential retirement and had his radio locked in to Leighton Vander Esch's introductory news conference.

But the biggest local topic was Dez Bryant. Cowboys faithful had plenty of thoughts on their now-former No. 1 receiver.

"I can't believe Dez turned down that offer from the Ravens," lamented Roland.

"What are they going to do without Dez?" asked Kayshala.

"Could Courtland Sutton fall all the way to the third round?" queried Jerry.

Many of those anxieties should have been quelled by Dallas' Round 3 selection of Michael Gallup though it certainly didn't dampen the electricity in and around the building all weekend.

The draft itself hasn't quite become an event on par with the Super Bowl, but it's growing. What was once administrative on-boarding at its most mundane has turned into NFL Coachella -- though I doubt the desert music festival would ever be so bold as to schedule its biggest act on the first night. There are plenty of other similarities; hordes of people dressed in jerseys and costumes wandering semi-aimlessly through a large open air bacchanalia becoming increasingly bleary-eyed with each passing day.

The NFL Draft Experience is a county fair as dreamed up by Lamar Hunt and built by Jerry Jones. It has every football distraction short of an animal menagerie, though the Bucs tried to remedy that with a much ballyhooed parrot taking part in their Day 3 selection of Jordan Whitehead.

Naturally, it's the picking part of this exercise that drives the entire show. The inside of AT&T Stadium has the feel of a political convention with different teams' fans herded together like states' delegates. Although I would like to know if anyone running our national presidential nominating confabs would include N.E.R.D., Run The Jewels or Wiz Khalifa in their playlists.

Hearing the first name of the draft announced creates a roar unlike many you'll ever hear in a sporting facility -- a combination of joy, anguish, surprise, and relief all expressed in one loud burst. It's one of the few things during the week that would generate a unilateral crowd reaction. One of the others? Roger Goodell, of course.

Booing the NFL commissioner has become a tradition unlike any other. Goodell's attempt to bring three Cowboys greats -- Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman and Jason Witten -- as human boo shields failed spectacularly as 32 fan bases represented to direct their vitriol at the man in charge.

Draft weekend is a marathon, not a sprint. By the third day, the buzz in the building had waned considerably as fans and scribes alike list toward the finish line. It takes a certain type of person to stick around as some of college football's deep album cuts get a spin on the draft jukebox, although the in-stadium lure of free video game systems and Super Bowl tickets is certainly powerful.

By Saturday evening, the draft circus folds up its tent for another year. The hordes will have scattered to the winds, rejoicing in the spoils that their favorite teams acquired over the weekend. The narratives won't have ended, only changed. But that's another conversation for another rideshare.

Follow Marcas Grant on Twitter @marcasg

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