This past weekend, I traveled to New York to witness firsthand the 2014 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. It was a whirlwind adventure that yielded a new franchise quarterback – even if it wasn’t the one I expected! – and a variety of other playmakers that should be fun to watch in the years to come.
Our trip started off with a surprise: post-security at Jacksonville International Airport, a number of team representatives were waiting for those of us leaving that morning on the flight affectionately nicknamed Air Duval. There were at least 40 of us flying together on the same JetBlue direct flight from JAX to JFK, and the team put together some goodie bags for the trip:
Even better, the Jaguars’ mascot, Jaxson DeVille, was there as well.
After dishing out high fives and generally wreaking havoc in the terminal before the flight, we had a couple more surprises in store. First, Jaxson was allowed on the plane, in full suit, to run up and down the aisles and lead a couple cheers before takeoff.
To say those not traveling with us were confused would be an understatement.
JAX-JFK • JetBlue
The door closed, the walkway was pulled back and Jaxson helped direct the plane out to the taxiway:
I love flying with JetBlue. The amount of legroom available in their basic seats feels like almost too much room when compared with the norm on other airlines, and the quality of their snacks goes beyond mere peanuts or pretzels. I paid just
$2.50 for the flight – the security fee – because I used points transferred from Membership Rewards to JetBlue’s TrueBlue program in order to book the flight.
We stayed relatively well-behaved on the flight, which was otherwise uneventful. The in-flight entertainment systems in my row were on the fritz, but I used the time to chat with my friend and rest a bit, so the loss wasn’t felt.
To & From The City
On arrival at JFK, we made our way to the AirTrain, which will take you as far as Jamaica station where you can transfer to the New York subway system.
The AirTrain costs $5 per trip and the Subway costs another $2.50, making travel into the heart of Manhattan from JFK possible for as little as $7.50 each way for those patient enough to withstand the hourlong ride. Ours was particularly crowded on the way into the city, though the ride back was more comfortable at the end of the trip.
Compared to dropping $60 or so on a cab, I was willing to pass the time talking with Jags fans on the way into the city and listening to a podcast on the way out. The length of this trip was child’s play compared to the waiting in line that would await us to guarantee entry to the Draft.
Grand Hyatt New York
We took the subway all the way to Grand Central Station:
Grand Central is adjoined to the Grand Hyatt, so we effectively traveled all the way from JFK to the hotel lobby without ever setting foot outside. The lobby of the Grand Hyattis impressive, with statues that arise from a thin layer of water:
We didn’t get into our room until later that night, but as I explained in my piece on how I put this trip together, we were due a Junior Suite thanks to a Points + Cash stay and the use of a suite upgrade certificate. The suite wasn’t ready until later in the day, but we were generally pleased once it was available.
The room included a nice couch that included a pull-out bed:
Across from this was a spacious seating area, which would have been a nice breakfast nook had we eaten any meals in the room:
The bedroom was also large, with a nice King-sized bed:
Both rooms had a 40-something inch HDTV, fed with an array of HD channels. The light switches were capacitative touch-buttons rather than switches and were somewhat confusing. Lights in the bedroom and living space were controlled by the same “All On/Off” option, which was challenging with one person sleeping on the pull-out and two in the bed waking up at different times.
The room had clearly been renovated in the fairly recent past and was generally nice with a few minor exceptions. The power outlets were the clearest evidence of renovations, as the plastic plates surrounding them had yellowed with age and had been renovated around rather than replaced as they should have been.
The bathroom was cramped compared to the rest of the room, and the sink wasn’t deep enough to overcome a sill hanging above it. Washing your hands wasn’t an issue, but tasks like brushing teeth meant spilling water on the floor based on the odd placement. The sill, despite blocking full access to the sink, was still above two inches too narrow to properly accommodate bathroom supplies.
Most perplexing was the shower: with only one sliding door, it was impossible to turn on the water by reaching into the shower without being immediately subjected to a blast of cold water. Why both doors didn’t slide in order to resolve this is beyond me.
Despite these small issues, our stay was generally outstanding, and the location could hardly have been more central. That we were able to lock down a suite right next to Grand Central for such a small cost – 12,500 points + $150 per night (and taxes) – was an outstanding points-powered option in my book.
If you haven’t been to the NFL Draft, it involves an absurd amount of waiting. We waited more than seven hours on Wednesday, to be first given a lanyard, which was then confirmed with a hand stamp, which made us eligible for a wristband that could then the next day be converted into a ticket.
The entire process was horrendously handled, and it was obvious that handling fan entry was the very last item on the League’s to-do list.
After being brutalized by the NFL, we were consoled by an extraordinary act of fan service by the Jaguars that evening: the first hour of drinks at the official Bold City Brigade Jaguars fan party were on the house, courtesy of the Jaguars! No other team’s fans got that kind of special treatment the night before the Draft.
The next day, it was back in line for us around 2PM to be seated around 7PM for an 8PM start to the Draft.
Relieved to finally be in Radio City, I was horrified by my seat assignment: camera platforms are set up throughout the orchestra rows of Radio City, since both ESPN and NFL Network cover the Draft, along with a variety of radio entities. My seat was directly behind one of these camera platforms, and it was impossible to see anything at all.
I decided to roll the dice and go sit where many of our group was seated, to the left of the camera platforms with a much better view of the stage. I hoped no one would claim the seat I took, and thankfully, they never did.
A general air of shock came over us when Blake Bortles was announced as our selection at third overall. Not disappointment or excitement; simply shock. The team’s leadership had done such a good job concealing its interest in the UCF quarterback that few had given much thought to the idea that he could be selected by the team.
After taking a few minutes to recover, we regained our footing and cheered Bortles as he came down to take part in some radio interviews just across from our group.
Visiting the League Offices
As a mea culpa for some jokes made in poor taste by NFL.com, a small group of us were invited to League Headquarters for a tour and presentation. In the lobby, the AFC and NFC championship trophies, as well as the Lombardi itself, were prominently displayed:
We met with a number of key NFL staff, including the former player in charge of player issues, including fines, one of the staffers in charge of grading referees on their performance officiating games, one of the four men in charge of developing the NFL’s schedule and one of the league’s top PR reps.
Here’s a look at the board room where owners gather to meet and discuss league issues:
Here’s a look at the normally-sealed room in which the NFL schedule is formed in secret by just four men and some powerful software:
We were also pleasantly surprised when recently retired, beloved Jaguars offensive lineman Brad Meester showed up to dish out some free hats. It was definitely a valuable addition to the trip, and one I was impressed the League went to the trouble to arrange in an effort to pacify one particularly passionate group of fans.
More Drafting & The Trip Home
We came back for a second night of drafting, followed by the epic conquering of Valhalla in Hell’s Kitchen. The next day, I caught a matinee of Newsies with a friend that lives in the city, then made my way back to JFK for the flight home.
Unfortunately, I was so tired that I forgot to take any pictures on the plane on the way home. The direct flight on Delta back to JAX was delayed by about an hour, but the flight itself was quite nice; I had the row to myself and the small Embraer jet, with a 2×2 seating configuration, was clearly one of the newest planes in Delta’s fleet. Because I used Ultimate Rewards points to pay for this flight, it was effectively free, beating even the $2.50 fare I paid for the flight up!
Just like that, I was back in Jacksonville, with our quarterback and a pair of promising wide receivers in tow, along with a variety of other solid picks. As the Jaguars began to prepare for minicamp and the other events that will lead into this coming season, I turned my attention to the next trip!