CHICAGO - The Sweetness Simulator is the centerpiece of "Draft Town," the interactive party place the NFL constructed inside Grant Park to embellish the first draft held here in 50 years. It creates large blasts of air that propel humans high into the sky, like human balloons, spinning wildly in circles.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell tried the damn thing Wednesday morning, and well, talk about your foreboding signs. He tried, and tried and tried again, but he barely got off his feet until the aeronautical wonders who operated the thing grabbed hold of him and lifted him into the air with them.
There were no aeronautical wonders to rescue him last night, no big blockbuster last-minute trade by Chip Kelly, nothing to make such a promising night memorable. Whether he was outside in "Draft Town" commencing the start of the draft, or announcing the 20th pick of the draft, the only wind Goodell felt were the boos that greeted each of his podium appearances by fans who filled the Park, and the historic Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University, where the draft was held.
It didn't help that he botched the pronunciation of Marcus Mariota's name when he announced Tennessee's second pick, and it sure didn't help that the distracting fireworks that seemed imminent as the draft began never materialized, even as Tennessee ran its clock down to the last seconds before Goodell announced its selection.
In the end, Kelly did exactly what he said he would do. Or, more accurately, what he said he wouldn't do. He did not swap numerous picks and young players to trade up for Mariota. He picked a receiver, Nelson Agholor, who has been likened to Jeremy Maclin, the fourth of five children whom Caroline and Felix Agholor moved from Nigeria to New York and then Tampa, Fla., while young.
An articulate, hard-working and appreciative kid who will only serve to fuel all the talk about Kelly's culture.
It was a solid and functional pick, filling a need. Several mock drafts had Agholor already picked before the Eagles took their turn. Two picks earlier, Andy Reid's Kansas City Chiefs chose Marcus Peters, the emotional cornerback who was kicked off his Washington team last season because of repeated run-ins with coaches.
It was the first time two Heisman Trophy winners were selected with the first two picks of the draft. And yet when Mariota's name was announced without the anticipated blockbuster trade, it instantly deadened the electricity that had filled the 126-year-old building.
Moved to Chicago, this NFL draft was like a hybrid between a Hollywood awards ceremony and the events around an all-star game or championship game event. City officials estimate that over 100,000 fans will attend at least some of the events and activities surrounding the three-day draft, and if last night's bustling, face-painted crowd is an indicator, that estimate is likely to be surpassed. Especially with temperatures expected to climb into the 70s over the weekend.
Opened as an opera house in 1889 as one of the final architectural exclamation marks to the city's rebuild from a devastating fire 18 years earlier, this theater is much smaller, compared with the draft's longtime home of Radio City Music Hall, and the draft was more intimate and more animated than more recent editions in New York.
The Agholor pick was the Eagles' first after an offseason of restructuring, wheeling and dealing - and of considerable debate over the coach's direction and so-called culture.
Two years ago at this time, before the Eagles had played a game under Kelly, that debate centered on how Kelly's hurry-up offense would go bust amid the larger bodies and smaller rosters of the NFL. Now, amid sometimes grudging respect for his coaching acumen, there is an undercurrent of skepticism regarding his personnel chops.
Said NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah, an Eagles scout from 2010 to 2012, "Everybody's paying attention, I can tell you that . . . Whether or not he's successful or not could go a long way to determining the makeup of front offices and the power in organizations around the league. Because, if it's a colossal failure . . . Say in two or three years from now, he's kicked out all these Pro Bowl players, he's brought in all his own people, he's done the coaching, he's got all the power - and it goes into the toilet. I think you would see owners say, 'Hey, let's let the personnel guys do the personnel. Let's let the coaches coach. Let's not mix that up.' "
"But, if he’s wildly successful – like when Belichick first hit it. Then we started to see, OK, these coaches getting a lot more personnel power because Belichick has proven he can do it. But over time it’s looking more and more like Belichick is kind of the rarity."
A Belichick tutor and disciple, Kelly wants to breath out some of that rare air. And if last night said nothing else, it should have told us – again – that he’s not always blowing hot air at us.
He did what he said he was going to do.
Or not do.
On Twitter: @samdonnellon