Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. The second part will run in Thursday’s NewsTribune.
On April 17, 1999, D’Wayne Bates sat on his mother’s couch in Jackson, S.C. and waited.
A record-setting wide receiver for the Northwestern University football team, Bates patiently waited to hear his name called in the NFL Draft.
When it was, Bates was the 10th selection in the third round — the 71st pick overall — and played five full seasons in the NFL before he officially retired in 2005.
After he was drafted, Bates — a member of the Wildcats’ 1995 and 1996 Big Ten Conference championship teams — returned to New York multiple times during the NFL Draft.
After learning of his NYC trips, being the curious reporter and a well-known fan of the draft, I asked the first-year La Salle-Peru athletic director of his plans for this year’s draft.
Upon discovering he had no plans, I figured what a better way to watch the NFL Draft than with a former NFL player?
So, for nearly four hours Thursday night, I gleefully watched the entire first round of the NFL Draft at my apartment one-on-one with Bates, who reflected on his draft experience and shared his thoughts on the first round.
Upon his arrival less than a minute before the start of the draft, Bates proclaims his former team needs to draft a linebacker.
I’m not sold, instead preferring the Bears continue to beef up the offensive line.
As TV cameras pan the green room where NFL draftees and their families wait, Bates reminisces about his draft-day experience.
“It’s arguably the most stressful and joyous day,” Bates explains. “When you sit there, you’re in the 1 percent of the country that is going to get an opportunity to play a professional sport — and it’s easy to forget that. No one should be disappointed. Whether you’re a first-rounder or picked last or an (undrafted) free agent, you’re getting an opportunity that 300-million or so people don’t get. I think some people lose sight of that.”
When Bates was drafted 14 years ago, the NFL Draft was a two-day weekend event instead of the three-day primetime showcase it has become.
Coming out of Northwestern, Bates was projected as a late second-round to third-round pick, which meant he was prepared to wait nearly all afternoon and into the evening to hear his named called.
After not being picked in the first two rounds, he received a call at the start of the third round from then-Bears wide receiver coach Mike Borich to inform Bates the team was considering drafting him.
A few picks into the round, the Bears had made Bates their second of three third-round picks.
“You get a phone call and you just wait a few minutes, and the next thing you know you look up and Mel Kiper is talking about you,” Bates recalls. “I had a nice little highlight of me scoring a touchdown against Ohio State.
“Then the family got together, we prayed and we celebrated. From that point, the pressure is off. Now it’s time to compete against some of the elite athletes in the world.”
After the Kansas City Chiefs selected Central Michigan University offensive tackle Eric Fisher No. 1 overall and the Jacksonville Jaguars picked Texas A&M University offensive tackle Luke Joeckel at No. 2, ESPN announces the Oakland Raiders traded the No. 3 overall pick to the Miami Dolphins.
Widely expecting the Dolphins to take the draft’s third offensive tackle, TV cameras pick up University of Oregon linebacker Dion Jordan being informed by Miami that he will be the pick.
The shot leads Bates to recall how busy his phone was on draft day, which was in the pre-cell phone era.
“You give your number to your agent and your agent gives it to teams to contact you, so I gave my mom’s home number,” he says. “I was basically sitting on the couch holding the phone in my hand the whole day. You just wait and wait and then the phone rings and you say, ‘ Hello?!?!?!’ and it’s your cousin from down the street and you have to tell them, ‘No, I can’t talk right now!’
“Everyone is calling to see if you got drafted and you have to be like, ‘Stop calling me!’”
Come back Thursday as Bates discusses his pre-draft workouts, the Bears’ pick at No. 20 and ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.
Jared Bell is a NewsTribune Sports Writer. He can be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.