Most NFL traditions endured in 2020 despite COVID-19. The league kicked off after Labor Day, played games on Thanksgiving, and docked players for wearing their socks too low. Now, the league has signaled that commissioner Roger Goodell is reviving one of the traditions from the NFL draft that had to be shelved.
The pandemic gave the 2020 NFL draft an odd look and feel
The 2020 NFL draft looked different because the country was still in the early stages of the pandemic lockdown in late April. Over the three days of the draft, football fans got to see Jerry Jones making picks from his yacht and Bill Belichick’s dog seemingly sending in a selection from a laptop on the dining room table. And, of course, we all grew envious of Kliff Kingsbury over his gorgeous home.
However, fans did witness the continuation of the draft’s most time-honored tradition: the booing of the commissioner to open the proceedings. To his credit, Goodell showed a sense of humor by piping in cheers online from around the country, tying it into a charitable cause.
What the country didn’t see during the remote draft, however, was players walking onto the stage and greeted by Goodell. Instead, Goodell was hosting the proceedings from the basement of his suburban New York home, and the networks introduced the new crop of NFL stars via Zoom feeds from living rooms across the country.
That deprived fans of the tradition of seeing Goodell greeting the incoming rookies (and instant millionaires) with big hugs.
Goodell is bringing back an NFL draft tradition
The first round of the 2021 NFL draft takes place April 29 in Cleveland beginning at 8 p.m. ET. The main venue is a temporary amphitheater built next to FirstEnergy Stadium, and a maximum of 50,000 fans per day can attend events spread out over approximately 2.5 million square feet of festival space. Protocols related to masks and distancing are intact. Only vaccinated individuals can enter certain areas.
According to NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport, Goodell has completed the COVID-19 vaccination process and will “be allowed to give his famous hugs while greeting players.” Rapoport said interactions between the commissioner and players will remain brief.
However, the number of players appearing in person will be lower than in the pre-pandemic era. Presumed top pick Trevor Lawrence will celebrate becoming the new quarterback of the Jacksonville Jaguars while at home with his family. Alabama stars Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, and Mac Jones are among the 13 players attending the draft. BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, and Florida tight end Kyle Pitts have also accepted invitations.
When did Goodell begin hugging players?
The tradition of Goodell hugging players on the stage during the NFL draft isn’t something that the commissioner began. Rather, it was a player who took the initiative.
Oklahoma State defensive tackle Gerald McCoy took a phone call from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shortly before the third pick – Sam Bradford (St. Louis Rams) and Ndamukong Suh (Detroit Lions) went ahead of him minutes earlier– of the 2010 NFL draft was announced.
McCoy shared the news in the VIP room with family and friends as he waited for the formal announcement. Already emotional as he walked onto the stage. With his ceremonial Buccaneers jersey in hand, McCoy embraced Goodell for five seconds before the two posed for pictures on the stage.
McCoy went on to register 59.5 sacks in a 10-year pro career.