Validating. Surreal. Nerve-racking. Incredible.
Thirty-two players each year get the much-awaited call that installs them into the next class of an elite group: first round draft picks into the NFL.
It’s remembered differently by each of the chosen. For none is it a memory soon forgotten.
“It was one of the biggest, happiest moments of my life,” remembers Bills 2011 first round pick DT
“You see it on TV growing up as a kid,” said Bills 2012 first rounder, DB
PHOTOS FROM THE ARCHIVES: Official Bills Draft Cards
Three of the five were in New York City to walk the stage at Radio City Music Hall after getting the call from the Buffalo Bills.
“It was my first time ever in New York City,” said Spiller. “It was crazy. You get to New York and you see all the fans in their different team jerseys. That’s when it becomes a real moment.”
“The week I got there I was like, ‘Man, I’m in New York.’ I never thought I’d be here,” said Dareus. “It just kept building up as it got closer. Then the closer we got, we made it to the green room and I was like ‘Wow, we’re in the green room. This is crazy.’ I knew I was going to be called early and then my phone rang and it was Buffalo and that was it. I couldn’t believe it. I started crying a little bit and saw my brothers and sisters. The call did it all right there.”
From a somewhat private moment with friends and family in the annals of Radio City, Spiller, Dareus, and their first round brethren in NYC emerge onto the biggest stage of their lives. The next stop: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“I grabbed Roger and I told him I finally made it,” said Dareus, fondly remembering his moments with the Commissioner on stage after he was selected third overall. “I’m all about the hugs. I came down, my hips dropped, and when I grabbed him, I thrust through my arms and then followed through with the chest and palms and then a whisper into the ear, kind of serenading him. I said, ‘I finally made it, and I’m going to make those two teams pay for passing me up.’”
“It felt like we were just looking for the handshake but Roger actually took it farther than I thought he would,” said Gilmore. “I got a big hug. I think the hug was probably about 8 seconds or at least it felt like it. It was a good moment. He told me I would like Buffalo and there are some good people here. I enjoyed it.”
“I think it was a friendly hug,” said Spiller. “I met him before the draft so I had a chance to get to know him a little bit. So when I went in for the hug I made sure it was a manly hug and there was nothing strange. No type of funny business.”
Wood and McKelvin remember that stage differently – not one in New York City with lights and cameras and hugs with Roger Goodell, but no smaller a moment in the scheme of it all.
“On Draft Day I was just with my family, with no cameras or in New York City like a lot of first-rounders. Back then, I really didn’t want any camera crew around,” said Wood. “As an interior offensive lineman, I knew it could be high or it could be low and I didn’t want to put any extra pressure on the situation because it’s pretty nerve-racking as is. When I got back to Buffalo, I got a jersey and got up on stage with Russ Brandon and that’s when I was like wow, I was really a first-rounder and that’s what I wanted to do for so long.”
“I was in Atlanta with my family,” said McKelvin. “It was a private celebration. My agent gave me my phone and I stepped outside to talk to the coaches, and it was a relief. When I came back in, the first person that said something was my mom. She gave me a hug and tears almost rolled out of my eyes. That’s when I put my shades on, when she hugged me, because she hugged me so tight. She was shaking. It was amazing to see the look on my mom’s face when I got called because it had been a lifelong dream.”
And as the world took notice, it was the family and friends – those who knew the trials and successes of the players’ individual journeys – that resounded amongst these five as the presence that made the experience complete.
“They told me I could only bring five people and I think I had 14,” said Dareus, laughing. “Everybody kind of knew my situation. Everybody come from where they came from. Everybody I had in the stands, I let them walk on the stage and come back to my table. The people you saw at my table are everyone I have in my life. It took me forever to hug everybody.”
“Of course, my daughter was there with me so she was the first person I kissed when it happened,” said Spiller. “It still didn’t hit me that I got drafted until after I got to the hotel, just sitting in the room with my family. We were just sitting around talking. Once everybody went to their rooms I had a moment to relax and gather myself and gather my thoughts about what had just really happened. I just counted my blessings. It’s truly a blessing to be in this league.”
Despite their unique stories, each Bills first rounder echoed Spiller in appreciation for the chance to get that call, to play for an NFL team, and to realize their dream.
And their advice for the new crop of elites is much the same. Be in the moment. Realize how far you've come. Appreciate how blessed you are. Then get ready to work.
"You can’t rest on your laurels if you go early because ultimately you have to go earn the job," said Wood.
"Once you put that helmet on you still have to prove yourself and have to play football to the best of your ability," said Gilmore.
Oh, and another bit of advice on getting drafted. Make sure you look good doing it.
"On your wedding day, you want to be perfect. That day, I had to be perfect," said Dareus.
"I had on a cream colored suit that night at the draft," added Spiller. "I went with the white, because you never know what team you’ll be on. We thought the off white would go good with most colors. In fact it went really well with the Bills red, white, and blue."