Fans who attended the Official Draft Day Party Presented by Miller Lite got to watch the draft in style in the West Club Lounge
Covering 255 picks and about 17 hours of on-the-clock time, the NFL Draft is something of a marathon. For more than 1,500 Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans, however, draft weekend started with a sprint.
As they do each April, the Buccaneers got the fans involved in the most important weekend of the offseason with a pair of popular events at Raymond James Stadium.
Hours before the Houston Texans were even on the clock, more than 1,500 runners lined up for the sixth annual Draft Day Dash, staged by the Buccaneers and TECO Energy. Later, as the NFL began its selection process and the Buccaneers own pick at number 23 approached, a huge crowd gathered in the stadium's West Club Lounge for the Official Draft Day Party Presented by Miller Lite. Both events drew record crowds.
The Draft Day Dash began with a rush at 8:30 a.m., with Buccaneers wide receiver Michael Clayton firing the starting gun. Runners wound through scenic Al Lopez park, then dashed back down the road to Raymond James Stadium for the finish line. Competitors actually ran into the stadium and onto the field through the same tunnels used by Buccaneer players to start a game, with cameras capturing their approach to the finish line on the stadium's videoboards.
Clayton also stuck around for the finish of the race in order to hand out prizes. The first 100 male and female finishers received commemorative medals and everybody who ran in the race was entered into a prize drawing at the end. In addition, the male, female and wheelchair division winners all received Special Awards of Merit.
Lee Stephens of Temple Terrace won the male division, finishing the 5K run in 16:07. Just under two minutes later, in 18:02, the female winner, Tampa's Dana Parrot, crossed the finish line.
Heather Haynie of Zephyrhills successfully defended her 2005 victory in the wheelchair division. She finished the race in 18:36. Though all of the winners were local, this year's race drew competitors from as far away as Texas and London among its record 1,538 runners.
Not long after the prizes were handed out, with Skip Mahaffey of Buccaneers Radio Network flagship station 103.5 serving as emcee, the draft-day festivities moved indoors. With the help of Pewter Partner Miller Lite, the Buccaneers brought back an extremely popular event from last year, the Official Draft Day Party.
Fans who wished to attend the party were given free admittance to the Club Lounge, with the doors opening at 10:30 a.m. The Buccaneers started the party an hour earlier this year as a response to the large number of fans who attended in 2005. A trickle of partygoers quickly turned into a flood as the floor of the lounge filled with Buccaneer fans eager to see how the draft would develop.
Last year, at the first Official Draft Day Party, the Bucs were picking fifth overall and were thus on the clock fairly quickly after the start of the draft. This year, the Bucs held the 23rd selection, which gave fans plenty of time to sample the rest of the party's activities before settling in to see how their team would respond. Among the attractions were a variety of games and interactive activities, concession stands, banks of televisions displaying the draft coverage and some special guests.
The Buccaneers Cheerleaders, having already handled the stretching before the Draft Day Dash, attended the party as well and signed autographs. In addition, quarterback Chris Simms showed up and happily mingled with the fans.
Lee Roy Selmon, the first draft pick in franchise history, was on hand, too, and like Simms he sat down with the crew from 620 WDAE The Sports Animal to provide his take on the draft. Selmon's presence turned out to be particularly relevant when the Bucs used their first round pick on a player from his alma mater, Oklahoma guard Davin Joseph.
Back at One Buccaneer Place, team officials were huddled in the Draft Room, helping to determine the future of the franchise. For them, Saturday was a long but fruitful grind. For the fans who attended the Draft Day Dash, the Official Draft Day Party or both, it was a day of fun, exercise and Buc-fan camaraderie.