I watched every pick that year hoping to hear my name called. I watched most of the coverage pacing my living room apartment in Findlay, OH – not overly confident I would get drafted, but thought I had a chance. I had an excellent agent (whom I still consider a friend) and even though I went to a small college, I had the size and athleticism to play at the next level. I was even projected as high as the fourth round on some draft boards. (Those scouts may have lost their jobs about the same time I did though)
I didn’t hear my name on television that day but shortly after Mr. Irrelevant heard his name called, the first cell phone I ever owned rang and there was a (704) number trying to reach me. On the other end was Marty Hurney, the General Manager from the Carolina Panthers. “Mark how would you like to join our team and be a Carolina Panther? We’d like to offer you a free agency contract as long as no other team has signed you.”
As much as I looked forward to this day, I never pictured how it would go or thought about what I would say. So I simply said to Marty, “Ok. I’m in. When do we start?”
For a few minutes after hanging up, I tried to process what had just happened. I was sort of numb to the whole experience and didn’t know what to say to the few close friends who were with me. I’m certain they expected me to be more emotional, but everything was just so surreal.
At one point, I remember thinking it had only been 30 seconds since Ahmad Miller’s name was called with the 261st pick, and the draft was over when my phone rang. It had rang a few times throughout the day. I talked to several teams that day. All of them asking me who else I was talking to. It was very exciting when the phone rang… and very disappointing when the team I just got off the phone with picked another player.
Of course the disappointment of not getting drafted quickly subsided when the Panthers picked up the phone 30 seconds after the 2002 NFL Draft ended and offered me a contract. It felt good to be desired and it gave me hope that playing professional football was again a possibility. The sinking feeling in my stomach lasted only 30 seconds that day, and I would encounter that feeling in my career a few more times, however with disappointment, also came jubilation.
Signing an NFL contract and playing in the NFL are special moments of realization for a few of us very lucky athletes. It’s not easily described because of the intangible, personal commitment it takes to make that dream a reality. To say it was a dream come true, does not give it justice.
Starting tonight and throughout the Draft weekend, young men will have their lives changed as they hear their name called by the Commissioner. Their families will be proud, their friends will celebrate and their pockets a little fuller. But more than anything, they will have a moment. And in that moment, they will feel something more powerful than words, wallets or friendships. It will be a quiet moment, one I recall as a blessing.