Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Philadelph­ia ready for NFL close-up

Iconic venues will be featured as league’s draft returns to its original city

- By Rob Maadi

PHILADELPH­IA — Yo, Roger, they did it.

When the NFL chose Philadelph­ia to host the 2017 draft, it quickly became clear one of the world’s most famous movie locations would be the perfect site to hold the three-day extravagan­za.

“We had talked about a couple different venues for the NFL and they wanted the Rocky steps and they wanted the Art Museum,” Philadelph­ia Mayor Jim Kenney told The Associated Press. “So that’s what we gave them. It will be a terrific event.”

Perhaps NFL commission­er Roger Goodell will run up the famous steps before announcing the No. 1 pick. Those same steps immortaliz­ed by fictional hero Rocky Balboa 41 years ago will serve as the backdrop for the elaborate stage, including a 3,000-seat, open-air theater, being constructe­d along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the NFL’s first outdoor draft.

The free event is being called the largest fan experience ever produced by the NFL. More than 200,000 people are expected to visit the half-mile area next week to enjoy the festivitie­s. The first round begins Thursday night.

“There was no better way to highlight the city of Philadelph­ia than to showcase some of its most iconic venues — from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, to the Philadelph­ia Museum of Art, to the Franklin Institute,” NFL spokesman Kamran Mumtaz said.

Some tourists and residents in the area have been grumbling for weeks about the lack of access to sidewalks and roads, and about the giant stage blocking most of the iconic “Rocky” steps.

Visitors won’t be able to run up those steps and raise their arms triumphant­ly at the top the way Sylvester Stallone did in the movie, but they could walk up the steps from the side and they can visit the Rocky statue at the bottom.

Joaquim Marquet, of Valencia, Spain, came down to Philadelph­ia from New York City just to run up the steps Thursday.

“It was the one thing I wanted to do,” the 32-yearold said. “[It] was a bit disappoint­ing, but I understand you can’t stop everything just for tourists.”

There will be a ton of other, fun activities for visitors inside the NFL Draft Experience, which stretches the length of 25 football fields.

One of the interactiv­es includes an opportunit­y for fans to test their 40-yard dash time against players. Adults and kids can kick field goals, run through obstacles or try the new 100yard zip line.

“I will not be on the zip line, but I’m sure the more adventurou­s will be lined up for it,” Kenney said.

Those who prefer to stay on the ground can get autographs from current and former players, take pictures with the Vince Lombardi Trophy and much more. Fans outside the theater can follow the draft on giant television screens.

“The NFL is really engaged in the fan experience process,” said Julie Coker Graham, President and CEO of the Philadelph­ia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The City of Brotherly Love is getting used to major events. Philadelph­ia hosted the Democratic National Convention last summer and Pope Francis in 2015.

“We certainly do big events well,” Coker Graham said. “But to have the NFL choose us, our city, Philadelph­ia and then to choose the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and the iconic steps of the Art Museum is kind of a dream come true.”

The 82nd NFL draft is returning to its birthplace for the first time since 1961 and 11th time overall. On February 8, 1936, the first NFL draft was held at Philadelph­ia’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Teams took turns over nine rounds picking from 90 names written on a blackboard.

 ?? Matt Rourke/Associated Press ?? The NFL is raising its stage in Philadelph­ia not far from where “Rocky” raised his arms.
Matt Rourke/Associated Press The NFL is raising its stage in Philadelph­ia not far from where “Rocky” raised his arms.

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