87 years of the NFL Draft: From a hotel room to big-time spectacle

ByPriscilla Riojas KTRK logo
Wednesday, April 26, 2023
How did the NFL Draft go from a hotel room to the big stage?
Once upon a time, the NFL Draft started at a Philadelphia hotel. ABC13 associate producer Priscilla Riojas walks through how the draft has evolved over 80 years.

The NFL Draft can change lives, but it wasn't always the juggernaut we have come to know.

The inaugural NFL draft was held 87 years ago, in 1936, in a Philadelphia hotel room.

There was still a big board, but it was a chalkboard with 90 names on it.

The Philadelphia Eagles made the first pick, selecting, Jay Berwanger. He ended up working for a rubber company and never played a down in the NFL.

Safe to say, the first draft was far from the spectacle we know today.

There was no scouting, no agents and no 24-hour media coverage.

"It evolved to Radio City Music Hall and became a beautiful theatre event in primetime, and then in 2015, it went to the modern draft era, which is this big festival environment," said Peter O'Reilly, NFL Executive Vice President, Club Business and League Events.

The original owners couldn't possibly dream their closed-door meeting would eventually be held in Radio City Music Hall for millions to watch.

In 1980, ESPN approached the NFL about televising the draft. The league allowed the cameras, and the phenomenon took off.

In 2010, the draft became a primetime event, broadcasting the first round by itself on Thursday night.

"Putting it in primetime was a brilliant move. It used to be all night. It used to be 24 rounds in one day and then 18 rounds. To divvy it up over a three-day period was brilliant," said John McClain, who has covered the NFL for 47 years.

This year, the stage in Kansas City will be the biggest structure ever built for the draft.

"We've been building it for the last month at Union Station in Kansas City, all the way up to the World War One memorial," O'Reilly said.

Now, the NFL Draft is a monster event.

But despite the bright lights, the spirit of the draft remains the same. It's about teams trying to ensure their best future.

"It's about these prospects who have worked their young lives to get to this point, and telling their story as they are welcomed to the NFL," O'Reilly said.

Watch ABC13's Countdown to the Draft special below.

Get ready for the Texans' big night with ABC13's Countdown to the Draft with anchors Jonathan Bruce, Rita Garcia, Adam Winkler and special guests.