Feeling out the Draft for NFL fans in Chicago

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 4.46.46 PMFrom the Saturday, April 18, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

Without an enclosed-roof facility and with the bone-chilling draft along Lake Michigan every February, it’s unlikely that Chicago ever will – or ever should – host a Super Bowl.
But it will hold a Draft this spring – and it’s super-sized.

After 51 years in New York, the NFL Draft relocates to the Windy City April 30-May 2 when the league stages its reimagined extravaganza inside the historic Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress Parkway).

Like planned no-shows Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, you won’t be able to find yourself inside the theatre for the Draft (tickets are no longer available), but that hardly means you can’t be part of the festivities.

And if you want a Draft experience, here’s what you need to know.

Where to go

With 4,000 seats, Auditorium Theatre can only fit so many people. But at Draft Town, the so-called “three-ring circus” that will sprawl across adjacent Grant Park, there will be no such issues.

Covering 900,000 square feet – equal to 15 football fields – Draft Town is open to the public and will feature an arched structure built on Congress Plaza to house Selection Square, where team tables will be and where team representatives will call in their picks.

“This is really where the operations of the draft take place,” Peter O’Reilly, NFL senior vice president of events, told the Chicago Tribune. “That’s where we will have about a thousand additional fans [tickets no longer available], beyond those who are in the theater.”

Across a bridge, another arched structure will play home to ESPN and the NFL Network. Draft Town will be open from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on both Thursday, April 30, and Friday, May 1, and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 2. A concert on Saturday night will close out the festivities.

What to do

This week, a friend asked if Draft Town would feature a “Where’s Jameis?” attraction allowing fans to track the absent Florida State quarterback and likely No. 1 pick. I don’t think so.

But Draft Town will offers fans the opportunity to get a photo taken with the Vince Lombardi Trophy inside a Super Bowl “museum” where championship rings from throughout history will be on display. All 32 NFL franchises, including the Bears, will also have their own “Team House,” featuring unique club content and memorabilia.

The “Combine Corner,” meanwhile, will provide a chance to participate in some of the same events that top prospects take part in during the NFL Combine. This includes an opportunity to test your speed by running alongside an LED screen that features NFL stars doing the 40-yard dash.

In a nod to Chicago, there also will be a “Sweetness Simulator” featuring a skydive wind tunnel that allows fans to float in the air and soar over the football action just like Walter Payton himself.

Other attractions include the Bud Light Draft Tavern, local food vendors overseen by celebrity Chicago chef Graham Elliot, NFL legends teaching football clinics open to boys and girls ages 6-14 on a first-come, first-served basis, and other interactive family- and youth-related activities and events. For details visit Town.

How to get there

From out of town, the easiest way get to Draft Town is probably taking the Metra to the Museum Campus/11th Street Station and then walking north to Grant Park. If you do drive, however, underground garages are available beneath Grant Park and Millennium Park. But those may fill up and you might have better luck parking in a high-rise garage north of the Chicago River and then taking the CTA Red Line south.

As always, is a great trip-planning resource.