And with the second pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, the Oakland Raiders select Robert Gallery from the University of Iowa.
New York, New York. The Big Apple. The city where dreams are made, and critics are quick to criticize.
I had finally arrived. It was the weekend I had been dreaming about my entire life. I had always wanted to be drafted in the NFL, but to be one of the six players invited to actually attend was more than I could have ever imagined. What was better was that I was able to bring my family on a well-deserved vacation and wine and dine them a little bit.
That Friday morning I was on a tight schedule with the other players. We had to make several stops. We went from the NFL Headquarters to Ground Zero (which was overwhelming in itself to actually be standing at the base of such a tragic event in U.S. history) to the CBS Morning Show to City Hall. It was a lot of fun and educational and it kept my mind off of the draft. It was also great just hanging out with the guys on the bus. There was a lot of joking around and just keeping the mood real light. We all had the same thing on our minds, but we weren't letting it consume us.
While I was being whisked around the city, my family members were able to do everything they wanted to do and see. I wished I could have experienced it all with them, but I was just glad they had the chance to take it all in.
That night my agency, Priority Sports, took me, my family and some of my coaches out to a nice dinner at Rocco's. That's the restaurant on the NBC reality show, so it was cool to see what everyone sees on television, and to get the inside glimpse. I highly recommend it for anyone visiting the New York area.
That Saturday was like any other Saturday; I woke up late, watched some cartoons and ate some cereal in my pajamas on the couch.
Oh wait that was draft day, never mind. I was up bright and early, barely able to sleep with all the anxiety. I was like a five-year-old child on Christmas day, dressed before anyone else was even up. It had finally come. All the years of practicing, lifting, training, eating right, keeping myself in shape, all for this day, and it was here. Some days it seemed like it would never come, but before I knew it, I was buttoning the last button on my custom made Elevee suit and taking pictures with my family as we made our way outside to head to Madison Square Garden for the 2004 NFL draft.
Once at the draft, it was fairly loose. They sat us down at our table and my family members and I were just cracking jokes and talking. They helped to keep me calm and my mind on other things. A few minutes before the broadcast came on TV, they brought all the players out on stage to introduce us to the crowd. I'm not sure what you were able to see on TV, but there were a lot of people there. The reception I received from the crowd was more than I had planned for. I just had to stand there and take it all in and enjoy the moment because I knew it was a once in a lifetime experience.
After all the players were introduced, we headed back to the green room and everything began to unfold. When Commissioner Paul Tagliabue walked to the podium to announce that the San Diego Chargers were on the clock, it was like the gun had been shot to start a marathon. Let me tell you, those were some long 15 minutes of waiting. I didn't know for sure who the No. 1 pick would be but I figured it would be a quarterback. Also, all of the cameras in the green room were around Eli which kind of tipped me off. So when Eli's name was called, it wasn't all that much of a surprise to me. But when the commish came back up and put the Oakland Raiders on the clock, I don't think I was breathing that whole time.
It was the longest 15 minutes of my life and the cameras were not helping me out. They were all over the place, not giving any indication of who it would be. My family and I sat at the table motionless. Throughout this whole process, I had told myself not to pick a favorite team. I wanted to keep an open mind because I didn't want to be disappointed when draft day came if I didn't go to that team. But inevitably it had happened. From the moment I visited with the Raiders, I felt like they were the best fit. From the team to the rich history to the personnel, I just felt that's who I would like to play for. I had done what I had told myself not to do. The Raiders were at the top of my wish list and I was about to be a little disappointed if they did not make me their first pick.
And then it happened. The phone in the middle of the table rang. We all looked at each other as if a bomb had started to tick. I was thinking, "do I answer this?" What do I do? I picked it up and it was the Raiders. Coach Norv Turner was on the other end, and he informed me that I was going to be a Raider. I had a smile on may face from ear to ear. I talked to the O-Line coach (Aaron Kromer) and then back to Coach Turner. As I was talking to him, I saw the commissioner on the monitor go to the podium and announce my selection.
This is when everything gets a little blurry. I was still on the phone with Coach Turner when my name was called. The NFL people were trying to rush me to the stage. But I couldn't hang up on my new coach! So I was sort of walking away from the table and talking at the same time. I finally got off the phone and was handed the jersey and hat and rushed to meet the commissioner. I barely had a chance to celebrate with my family. I got on stage, did the meet and greet, took some pictures and I don't know what happened next. I know that I talked to every media outlet in the world. I didn't even know who I was talking to most of the time. After hours of that, I finally got to see my family again and was able to celebrate with those closest to me. It was a time for me to sit back and finally take it all in. This is when it actually hit me that I was in the NFL and would be playing for the Oakland Raiders.
The second best news came when the Raiders said that they would not make me fly out there immediately to do a press conference, but would wait until I came for mini-camp to do it. They said, and I agreed, that it was too long of a flight for me to come just for that. Since I was not going to Oakland, I was able to spend another night in New York. After a much needed nap, we all went out that evening for a celebration dinner which proved to be a great way to cap off the day.
The next morning it was time to wrap things up and head back to Iowa City, Iowa. When I landed, there were fans waiting at the airport with congratulations, I could feel the excitement in the air. I felt like a superstar. It was very overwhelming.
Since then, I have gotten a few workouts in and started to prepare for mini and training camps. I honestly am just ready to get back on the field and play football because that is what I do. I have to start all over as a freshman again. I will be working with the second string and will have to earn my position like everyone else. I am looking forward to the whole experience.
OK, that should do it. I know this one has been long but a lot has happened over the past few days and I wanted to fill everyone in, especially for those who have been following me since I started these diaries.
As usual I am getting ready for a flight. I leave for Oakland today for a few days of mini-camp and my press conference.
I know it's not Disney World but it actually feels that way to me because all I can think of now is that dreams really do come true.