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‘Just enjoy it’: Fans come together in Las Vegas for NFL draft

Updated April 28, 2022 - 10:32 pm

After a two-year wait, fans from all over the U.S. gathered on the Strip on Thursday to celebrate the NFL draft, Vegas style.

The NFL had planned to hold the draft in Las Vegas in 2020, but was forced to make it a virtual event because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Thursday at least, no one seemed to mind the delay.

Fans of all 32 NFL clubs were strewn about throughout the area, ranging from the draft’s red carpet stage set up over the Fountains of Bellagio to the draft theater and fan experience located behind the Linq.

Although the draft is focused on where NFL stars of tomorrow will end up, the fans’ focus was on having a good time.

“The NFL is a huge community. It’s all about the people,” said Michael Klingenmeier, 50, of Las Vegas. “Competition aside, everybody gets along. They want to be out here. It’s a great day for everyone to have fun, no competition between teams, just enjoy it.”

9:40 p.m.

Like father, like son

John Salas and his son John Salas, Jr., 15, made their way out of the NFL Draft Experience as the first day of the draft wrapped with rock band Weezer performing a cover of “Africa” on the draft stage.

The father and son traveled from San Jose, California, to spend the weekend in Las Vegas.

“It is a more relaxed atmosphere out here, being that we’ve all been locked up two years,” John Salas said. “To be doing a little normal again it’s great.”

Both said they had to get used to the former Bay Area team moving to Las Vegas.

“A little sore at first, but we never got this much publicity like we’re getting out here,” John Salas said.

His son was born on July 4 — the same day as the late Raiders owner Al Davis.

“It wasn’t planned; I decided to come out 10 days earlier,” the son said as his father laughed.

The older Salas is known as “Raider J” or “Raider John” among fellow members of the Raider Drive Booster Club, a nonprofit fan organization based in San Jose.

“I wanted him to experience people from everywhere just to get that culture,” John Salas said of his son. “You get to talk a little trash, get is back, but it’s all fun and games, it’s part of the NFL experience.”

— David Wilson

7:29 p.m.

Taking a ‘boys trip’

Emma Changose and Lindsay Holden munched on nachos at one of the many tables set up for fans at the NFL Draft Experience.

They accompanied their partners for their Las Vegas “boys trip.” Even though she’s not as big of a football fan as her partner, Bailey Wargo, Changose said, “It’s been more fun than I thought.”

Changose and Wargo traveled from Seattle with Holden and her partner, Ben Larson.

Despite living in Seattle and being in a relationship with a “die-hard” Seahawks fan, Holden was wearing a black San Francisco 49ers jersey with No. 85 on the back.

“I’m a George Kittle fan, not a 49ers fan,” Holden said.

Wargo and Larson originally planned a trip to Las Vegas two years ago but had to cancel.

“Since then they’ve acquired some girlfriends, which brings us,” Changose said. “We’ve had brunch reservations; we’re really hijacking their Vegas trip.”

— David Wilson

6:10 p.m.

‘Violator’ a fan favorite

Raiders super fan Wayne “Violator” Mabry couldn’t walk more than two steps in the middle of the NFL Draft Experience without a fan asking for a picture.

His iconic silver and black face paint, spiked shoulder pads and unmistakable scowl have been a staple in the Black Hole for three decades.

Even a New York Giants fan came up asking for a selfie with Mabry.

“We always knew we were the underdog, we’ve always been the outcast,” Mabry said. “But we’re in a town near you, and we’re bringing it. That passion that this town never saw before … it’s about that passion for that shield.”

He described the draft experience and seeing the silver and black all around as like a “family reunion.”

“I’m talking generations of fans,” Mabry said. “I’ve been blessed for 32 years to know all these guys.”

— David Wilson

5:18 p.m.

Jags take DE with first pick

The Jacksonville Jaguars led things off by selecting Georgia defensive end Travon Walker with the No. 1 pick.

Jaguars fan Phil Jackson’s shoulders slumped as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell read out his team’s first pick, saying he was “very disappointed.”

“I think it’s a reach,” Jackson said of the pick.

He thought Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson would have been a better pick. Hutchinson was taken by the Detroit Lions with the next pick.

On the plus side, Thursday is Jackson’s 34th birthday. He said he plans to soak in the experience and watch some “Travon Walker highlights and hopefully buy into the pick.”

Follow the rest of the selections with our draft tracker.

Looking for the latest news and full coverage? Visit lvrj.com/nfldraft.

More on the draft:

A fan’s guide to the draft

How to attend the 2022 NFL draft

Best draft prospects at each position

Biggest, fastest, strongest players in the draft

— David Wilson

5:00

‘Let’s get this party started’

As the 2022 NFL draft kicked off, some familiar faces helped NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell welcome the crowd.

Raiders Derek Carr, Darren Waller and Raider legend Marcus Allen acted as unofficial draft hosts, with an assist from the Mayor of the Raider Nation, rapper Ice Cube.

The mixed NFL team fan bases gave the trio of Raiders a mixed reaction, but Ice Cube was welcomed by all in attendance.

“Let’s get this party started right,” Ice Cube yelled to the crowd.

Mick Akers

4:32 p.m.

Fans revel in NFL Draft Experience camaraderie

Almost any fan can feel like a first-round pick inside the NFL Draft Experience.

At least, that’s what a few of the provided activities made it feel like. Located behind the Linq Promenade, the free “interactive football theme park” allowed fans to simulate scoring a game-winning touchdown, tackling opponents and throwing a football to a teammate. Or they could take part in other tried-and-true fan activities: drinking beer and sporting their best team garb.

Fans lined up to catch a machine-lobbed football then weave through tackling dummies before diving onto a foam mat in the “end zone.”

Father and son Michael and Turner Klingenmeier, of Las Vegas, took the chance to show off their former football days and revel in the sight of their hometown as host of the NFL Draft.

“I’m born and raised here, never thought the NFL would make it to the city and here it is,” Turner Klingenmeier, 22, said. “We got the Raiders, what, two years ago?, and now the NFL Draft and the Super Bowl coming up. Las Vegas is a sports mecca.”

The Bears fans said they were impressed with the site for all of its activities — other amenities inside the experience included a close-up look at a Vince Lombardi trophy and a magnified view of Super Bowl rings — but the best part was being around other football fans.

“The NFL is a huge community. It’s all about the people,” Michael Klingenmeier, 50, said. “Competition aside, everybody gets along. They want to be out here. It’s a great day for everyone to have fun, no competition between teams, just enjoy it.”

3:50 p.m.

Friendly competition

Tony Jordan of San Diego dove into the blue padding at the end of the 40-yard dash in his No. 12 Aaron Rodgers jersey.

The dash was one of several interactive football activities for fans to take part of inside the NFL Draft Experience next to the draft stage.

Jordan beat out three other competitors including his friend Alex Doan who was sporting a Justin Herbert Los Angeles Chargers jersey.

“I want a wide receiver in the first round, hoping and praying for that,” Jordan said of the Green Bay Packers.

Doan and Jordan’s next stop was a display of past Super Bowl rings and the Raiders’ three Vince Lombardi trophies.

— David Wilson

3:00 p.m.

Ardent Viking fans show their true colors

Most NFL fans in Vegas for the draft are sporting their favorite team’s colors or their favorite player’s jersey. But Minneapolis residents Jon Herzig and Kellie Johansen decided to put on their best clothes — with a twist.

Known as “the purple brothers,” the pair attends every Minnesota Vikings home game — each dressed in a rich purple suit, white accessories and a yellow dress shirt. The outfit is topped off with a purple fedora with a set of Viking horns sticking out from the sides.

Minneapolis residents Jon Herzig, left, and Kellie Johansson pose for a photo on April 28, 2022 ...
Minneapolis residents Jon Herzig, left, and Kellie Johansson pose for a photo on April 28, 2022 in the Linq Promenade. The Minnesota Vikings fans are the “official unofficial” mascots of the NFL team and were invited to watch Thursday night’s draft from the staging area’s inner circle. (McKenna Ross/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

The pair is a staple of Vikings games and are often seen from their seats in the front row at the 50-yard line. They call themselves the “official unofficial mascots” of the team.

“That means we get to go everywhere and get recognized by everybody and get paid zero,” Herzig said.

Herzig and Johansen say they’ve been in the first row of 41 stadiums and to London twice. On Thursday, draft viewers can spot them inside the staging area’s “inner circle,” where 20 fans per day are welcomed to see the action up close.

That’s how they like it.

“We only go first row,” Herzig said. “No one will ever sit in front of us.”

-McKenna Ross

2:34 p.m.

Mile High Prophet loves Vegas

John Buckley is a Broncos fan through and through, so much so that he claims to have pulled off a feat in favor of his beloved team.

Known to fans in Denver as the Mile High Prophet, Buckley said he dug up some soil from Mile High Stadium and mixed in the dirt at Allegiant Stadium before it was built. He kept a small portion of the soil, which he proudly displayed Thursday in a vial hung around his neck.

“The Broncos will always play on home soil in Las Vegas,” Buckley said, while dressed as a prophet in Broncos colors holding a team-themed 10 Commandments.

That act didn’t pay off for the Broncos last season as they lost to the Raiders at Allegiant Stadium 17-13.

“I was at the Broncos-Raiders game last year,” Buckley said. “That didn’t go as good as we were hoping, but we’ve got Russell Wilson now so everything’s changed.” He was referring to the former Seattle Seahawks quarterback who was traded to the Broncos during this offseason.

Buckley is a huge Las Vegas fan and visits the city multiple times a year. Hosting the draft on the Strip was a must do in his opinion.

“I love Vegas,” Buckley said. “I could not think of a better place to host a draft.”

Having a portion of the Strip and Flamingo Road shut down is a no small feat and Buckley was mindful of the work it took to pull it off.

“I don’t live here, so I’m not driving in it, but I respect that this is a hardship to the people of Las Vegas,” Buckley said. “I am glad they allowed us to have this much fun in their town.”

Mick Akers

2:15 p.m.

Fans flock to the fountains

Droves of fans flocked to Las Vegas Boulevard in front of the Fountains of Bellagio to catch the much-talked about red carpet festivities Thursday.

Fans outfitted in gear from all 32 clubs could be spotted in the crowd, with different team chants breaking out at different times.

Marcus Norman, left, and Chris Findley, both of Tampa, Fla. on the closed Strip in front of the ...
Marcus Norman, left, and Chris Findley, both of Tampa, Fla. on the closed Strip in front of the Bellagio on Day 1 of NFL draft Thursday, April 28, 2022. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto

Some had signs made displaying the picks they hoped their team would make later in the day.

Music was blasted and images were displayed on large LED screens so those not near the front row could take in the fun.

Mick Akers

1:35 p.m.

Making memories with friends from all over

Chris Contreras — better known to Minnesota Vikings’ faithful by his moniker Mando Vik for his Star Wars Mandalorian outfit — said Las Vegas is a great host city for the draft.

“This is the most luxurious draft ever,” Contreras said Thursday with the Bellagio stage in the background. “I’ve been to Nashville’s draft, the two cities are in their own element. Nashville has county music, it’s a different vibe. Vegas is the life of the party. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

Contreras, who hails from Bakersfield, California, was with a group of about 20 who came from all over the country, including Minnesota, California, New Mexico and Texas.

Having such a big group from all over meet for an event like the draft is the ideal scenario for a good time, said Contreras.

“Making memories with my friends and doing what I love,” he said. “Of course we hope to get a good draft pick, but this is what we do and what we love doing.”

Mick Akers

1:15 p.m.

NFL Draft festivities greet travelers at Las Vegas airport

Festivities for the NFL Draft in Las Vegas began moments after travelers stepped off their plane at Harry Reid International Airport.

Hundreds of fans arriving in the city Thursday were welcomed to a party, of sorts, in the baggage claim. Airport officials hired a DJ to play pop hits as travelers grabbed their luggage and searched for their rides. The airport also passed out free popcorn and a vendor set up to-go beers and cocktails near the exit, where some tossed back a quick shot and beer to start the party before stepping foot on the Strip.

From left, Miami residents Maria Gertz, Maria Crowley, Sara Rainin and Sima Sadoughi pose for a ...
From left, Miami residents Maria Gertz, Maria Crowley, Sara Rainin and Sima Sadoughi pose for a photo in front a of a backdrop welcoming NFL draft attendees on Thursday, April 28, 2022, at the Harry Reid International Airport. The group is in town to see several shows but plans to visit draft festivities as well. (McKenna Ross/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority also brought giveaways and a massive backdrop of each team’s mascot on a playing card, giving visitors the opportunity to snap a group photo.

Dressed up in a Raiders jersey and hat, Los Angeles resident Richard Rodriguez was eager to get to the Strip and his hotel room at the Flamingo to check out what is set up for fans. The P.E. teacher has been a lifelong Raiders fan since they were based in L.A., he said, and he now follows the franchise.

“The NFL Draft is on my bucket list, and what’s better than Vegas?” he said.

But not every traveler was aware of the NFL Draft’s huge footprint in Las Vegas this weekend. Boston resident Michele Poole said she and her best friend were in town for a girls’ weekend of a three-night stay at the Virgin Hotel Las Vegas, courtesy of an Instagram sweepstakes she won.

“I am so stoked,” Poole said. “First off, it didn’t even occur to us that it was draft weekend. We walked in, we’re like, ‘Whoa, there’s even more hot guys than usual in Vegas. That’s why!’”

Others were in town for more traditional Vegas entertainment: residencies. Miami resident Maria Crowley traveled with three of her tennis teammates to see Lady Gaga and Michael Bublé. The group is staying at the Aria and plans to attend draft-related events while in town.

“(My friend’s) husband said, ‘Honey, make sure you bring something from the Jets!’” Crowley said.

-McKenna Ross

1:10 p.m.

NFL Draft Experience opens to fans

The NFL Draft Experience officially opened to fans on Thursday afternoon.

The area features an interactive theme park, NFL player appearances, food and beverage options and specialty retail items available only in Las Vegas for the draft.

The fan experience is located next to the draft theater, which sits behind the Linq hotel.

1:05

Flight delay keeps Cowboys running back from appearance

A flight delay kept Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott from arriving at a meet-and-greet inside sports memorabilia store Field of Dreams. Fans Mary Salinas and Patricia Lopez, who flew in from Texas, were disappointed but said they’d be back Friday for the rescheduled time. Lopez said they visit Las Vegas about every two to three months, and being in town for the draft was a must. “It’s starting to feel like pre-Covid,” said Lopez.

-Subrina Hudson

12:50

Draft visit a graduation gift to sons

Ivan Cook decided to go all out celebrating his two sons’ high school graduation.

“They did great in high school. They’re responsible and they’re going to college,” Cook said. The three from Indiana were standing near the Nike store inside Forum Shops getting ready to leave for the NFL Draft Experience.

Ralph Gardner said he was most excited about the draft while Kameran Cook said “seeing the plays.” The 18-year-olds said it was their first time in Las Vegas, and so far, the experience is what they imagined it would be. Gardner said he’s looking forward to eating at some of the restaurants on the Strip, adding that he wants to visit Las Vegas at least one more time before he starts college.

-Subrina Hudson

12:33 p.m.

Weather, winds no problem for NFL Draft

The National Weather Service issued a high-wind advisory for Las Vegas with wind speeds of between 30-45 mph possible on Thursday, but the NFL’s show will go on, even if it gets windy.

“Our contingency plans have contingency plans and we always have a playbook for any potential issue,” said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy.

Read more

-Richard N. Velotta

12:15 pm

Part of Strip shut down for press conference

In what might be one of the most unique news conferences in Las Vegas history, officials kicked off NFL draft festivities Thursday from a stage in the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road.

“Doing this is not easy,” said Steve Hill, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority president. “This is the first we have ever shut down Las Vegas Boulevard for a press conference.”

During the event, Las Vegas Boulevard between Flamingo and Bellagio Drive was renamed Draft Drive for the three-day event.

Gov. Steve Sisolak said it is a surreal day for Las Vegas, especially with the city’s experience with the league in the past.

“I remember when Las Vegas couldn’t get an ad on during Super Bowl,” Sisolak said. “Now we’ve got the draft, we had the Pro Bowl coming here and the Super Bowl. It’s just amazing.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he was relieved to finally be in Las Vegas after the 2020 draft was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s exciting to think when we think back to two years ago, when we were supposed to be here for the 2020 NFL draft and I got detoured to my basement,” Goodell said.

Goodell is looking forward to a long-standing relationship with the city and big events going forward.

“Think about this, we just had the Pro Bowl here… you now have the draft here and Super Bowl 58 is coming here in just two years,” Goodell said. “Three of our biggest tent pole events coming to Las Vegas in a five year period. I think that speaks a great deal to the commitment of the Raiders, to the NFL, or Las Vegas… to what we can all do together.”

Mick Akers

12:20 p.m.

Checking out the latest garb

Diehard Seattle Seahawks fan Amber Martin, who traveled from Canada, was also at the NFL Store, taking a quick look at the newly launched capsule collection designed by streetwear artist Warren Lotus for sportswear brand Mitchell & Ness. She said her family originally planned to visit Las Vegas in April 2020 —the height of the pandemic.

“We flew in Tuesday and this is our first draft—our kids are flying in today, actually right now,” she said, noting that just two of her three children will be flying into Las Vegas from Canada.

“Our daughter and our son love football so we thought, ‘Let’s do it guys.’” She said the thing she’s looking forward to the most this weekend is being around other football fans. Well, just fans who love a certain type of team.

“We’ll be walking around and yelling, ‘Seahawk,’ (to other Seahawk fans),” she said, laughing as she pointed at her Seahawk jersey.

– Subrina Hudson

12:15 p.m.

Getting their gear on

Inside the NFL Store at the Forum Shops at Caesars, Sandy Conklin was decked out in a San Francisco 49ers jersey along with a massive gold chain with the team’s emblem attached. A few other shoppers inside the store could be seen with a similar necklace.

The Houston, Texas resident said he picked up the tchotchke for himself and his young son, also wearing a 49ers jersey, in downtown Las Vegas. Conklin said this was his second NFL draft experience, adding that he attended the draft when it was in Dallas. “We haven’t made it to the (NFL draft) experience yet, because that’s what I did back in Dallas,” he said. “But when I was at Dallas we had tickets where here it’s a first come, first serve so that’s going to be a little different.”

Conklin said you can tell there are a lot of NFL fans in town. “Definitely last night walking down Fremont Street you can see there’s a lot of NFL fans here because everybody’s sporting their jerseys, their bling and everything else,” he said. “We flew in last night and on the flight people were decked out in their NFL gear ready to go.”

– Subrina Hudson

10:46 a.m.

Washington fan easy to spot

Edward Friton from Winchester, Virginia was decked out Thursday in a Washington Redskins suit a ...
Edward Friton from Winchester, Virginia was decked out Thursday in a Washington Redskins suit and donning a Washington-themed wrestling championship belt. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

One of the early fans walking down Las Vegas Boulevard in front of the Bellagio was hard to miss.

Edward Friton from Winchester, Virginia, was decked out in a Washington Redskins suit and donning a Washington-themed wrestling championship belt. He also had glitter caked into his beard.

(The team formerly known as the Redskins has changed its name to the Washington Commanders.)

“First of all I’ve got the Redskin shoes, had to go with the bow tie, a regular tie moves too much in the wind,” Friton said. “I have my grandfather here (on the championship belt) he was in the marching band of the Washington Redskins. Yes, I am a Redskins fan for life.”

Related: NFL draft tracker

Friton said he got the massive amount of glitter in his beard by spraying a healthy layer of hair spray, then adding the glitter and finishing with another layer of hair spray.

“I’m goofy, it didn’t take me that long to come up with the concept,” Friton said. “The jacket I’ve had for years. It used to be my Thanksgiving jacket.”

Friton arrived in Las Vegas on Tuesday to take in the sights before the draft kicked off.

He appreciated that a portion of the Strip was shuttered. “It’s a lot easier to get around,” Friton said.

Mick Akers

9:30 a.m.

After 2 years, NFL draft finally reaches Las Vegas

After a two-year delay, the NFL draft is finally kicking off in Las Vegas.

The three-day event begins Thursday with the NFL Draft Experience opening at noon.

Official draft activity will start at 1:45 p.m. over the much talked about red carpet stage over the Fountains of Bellagio. There the top prospects in this year’s draft will walk the stage, making media rounds, before being shuttled to the draft theater area behind the Linq.

The draft is expected to draw around 200,000 attendees daily, paving the way for what may be the largest event in Las Vegas history. The Strip in front Bellagio Drive to Flamingo Road is shut down to vehicle traffic, as is Flamingo from Las Vegas Boulevard to Koval Lane, to allow fans to take in the draft experience at both activity hubs safely and seamlessly.

If previous drafts are any indicator, many fans will be dressed in outlandish costumes representing their favorite team, The draft has become known as the marquee fan event for the league since it started taking it on the road in 2015.

The NFL had planned to hold the draft in Las Vegas in 2020, but was forced to make it a virtual event because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mick Akers

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