Updated April 29, 2022 - 6:44 pm
It’s a red-carpet scene like no other. Striding along up a stage built on Lake Bellagio and feeling that Las Vegas breeze are cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner of Cincinnati, then defensive end Jermaine Johnson of Florida State, then designated showman Donny Osmond of Harrah’s Showroom.
They’re followed in step by offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu of North Carolina State, quarterback Malik Willis of Liberty and Wayne Newton, suiting up as Mr. Las Vegas.
Only in Vegas, for all time. And what they all have in common is they have never seen anything like the NFL draft on the Strip.
“Is this the biggest event in Las Vegas history? Is that right? It feels like it,” said Osmond, feeling at home on a carpet in his favorite color, purple. “But this is what Vegas is all about, when you think of it. We’re changing lives here.”
Newton is setting up for an interview Friday with former Dallas Cowboys great (and excellent suit model) Michael Irvin. Mr. Las Vegas said, “I know nothing about football. I have never gotten into it because I’ve always been working. But I know this, what I am seeing is a huge thing for our city.”
Newton hung back as fellow carpet walker Kyle Hamilton, a safety out of Notre Dame, wrapped an interview.
“I will say it’s great to see all these young guys enjoying Vegas, and it’s just an other example of the city coming back from a tragedy,” Newton says. “We rallied after 9/11, after the shootings on October 1, and all through COVID. There is no keeping this city down.”
The players were sufficiently stylish, their eyes wide as they took on Las Vegas as the first round approached.
“This is the first step into the actual dream,” said Jordan Davis, a defensive tackle from Georgia, wearing a national championship ring roughly the size of a bird bath. “I have done a lot of work to get to this moment. This is something I want to hold close to my heart for the rest of my life.”
Willis called the day “a blessing.”
“I have no idea what to expect, but I am very excited,” Willis said. “It’s a fairytale. Surreal. I have never been here, but I am loving it.”
Matt Corral, the highly rated quarterback out of Mississippi, has started journaling recently, in part to chronicle what happens in Vegas.
“Everyone who is here, and I think every college player, has dreamed of something like this, to be an NFL player,” Corral said. “I really can’t put it into words right now. It is a dream come true. I’m actually here, part of that .002 percent, or whatever it is, who make it to the NFL.”
Gardner, the flashy defensive back from Cincinnati, showed up with his trademark “Sauce” necklace, which looks to be dripping with diamonds. He added a blinged champagne bottle at the top.
“This is a new addition, to the original ‘Sauce’ piece,” Gardner explained. “I had to spice it up a little, for sure.”
What’s in the little bottle?
“Nothing in it right now,” Gardner said. “But later, after the draft, we might throw something in there.”
Perrico still a starter
Raiders owner Mark Davis was among the dignitaries at the event on the corner of the Strip and Flamingo Road, where LasVegas Boulevard at that intersection has been renamed Draft Drive through the weekend. Gov. Steve Sisolak, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Clark County Commissioner Jim Gibson, LVCVA President and CEO Steve Hill and Nevada Resort AssociationCEO Virginia Valentine spoke at the event.
Davis’ message about his team’s relationship to Las Vegas is unchanged. “Las Vegas got more than a team, it got a communitypartner that can also bring the NFL’s biggest events to the city.” In turn, the city has shown its unique appeal as a destinationwith multiple event locations and a deep bench of entertainment.
“There is no question about the ability of Las Vegas to put on an event, and the planning has been great,” Davis said after theofficial announcements. ” Now let’s see the execution and activation. But I have every confidence this draft will come off withflying colors.”
Davis is invested in the Raiders’ entertainment at Allegiant Stadium. He is known to hand-pick such stars as Carlos Santana,Neal Schon and Ice Cube to contribute to the stadium experience. Davis has committed to returning David Perrico and the Raiders House Band to home games for the 2022 season.
“David is all-in. We love the band, and everybody I talk to loves the band,” Davis said. “We’re only getting better with ourentertainment.”
Perrico and the band are set to play Cliff Branch’s NFL Hall of Fame induction party in Canton, Ohio this August. This is themusicians’ first road trip as part of Raider Nation.
‘Showstopper’ in the house
A member of the NFL draft production team called out just before the start of the event, “I never imagined I’d be on a Las Vegas stage again, let alone at the Bellagio Fountains with the NFL draft.” She’s Nicole Kaplan, a co-star in “Steve Wynn’s Showstoppers” at Encore Theater and also a member of Terry Bradshaw’s backup singing troupe. Kaplan is married to former “Jersey Boys” cast member at Palazzo and Paris Las Vegas Graham Fenton, now an attorney in L.A.
Kaplan was hired in September as a production coordinator for the NFL. She’s a huge Steelers fan, posting on Facebook after she took the job, “I was basically born into a Terrible Towel.”
The Raiders have announced Marcus Allen will be announcing the team’s first selection, which is in the third round, on Friday. We still believe there is another famous person playing into this selection.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.