By KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — NFL dreams will come true at Thursday night’s 2020 draft and although the annual event will be held virtually for the first time due to COVID-19, the commissioner and all 32 teams will be joined online to celebrate and share in the hope-filled evening.
Commissioner Roger Goodell joined ABC News’ Good Morning America on Thursday from his basement-turned-miniature draft night studio and shared his expectations for the night that he said will connect fans and players and move one step closer to kicking off the NFL season.
“The draft has always been about hope, but this year with all that’s going on and our society and around the globe, we need more experiences together and we need that ability to look forward and maybe have a distraction from all that we’re going through,” Goodell said. “We’ll have over 200 remotes around the country. It will be a way to socialize and bring people together and that’s what the NFL does and so I think we’ll be able to bring a great deal of optimism, not just to our fans but to the fact that businesses continuing to go forward and operations are going forward.”
He continued, “This is a really important event to our clubs and helping finalize their rosters and get ready for the season so this is important for us to do it right and doing it from home and doing it within regulations with no exemptions.”
While the night will miss some of its hallmark moments, like players walking on stage to hold up their new jersey and shake hands with Goodell, he said fans won’t be disappointed.
“There are a couple of things about the draft which I love,” he said. “The interaction with our fans, of course, and they love to boo and I love it myself. So we’re going to find a way to bring that in tonight and hear from our fans directly, because it’s just part of the tradition that we want to continue.”
Ohio State star cornerback Jeff Okudah told ESPN, “Even though the draft won’t be like how we envisioned it, it is still going to be crazy just to be a part of it.”
“I’m wearing my suit. I gotta look sharp, this is still going to be my day,” fellow draft prospect Ohio State defensive end Chase Young also told ESPN.
Each team will be on a video conference together — and since team facilities are closed — the decision makers will gather in a remote version of the war rooms to analyze and discuss their picks before passing it along to the commissioner who will make the announcement.
Top prospects, including this year’s presumptive No. 1 pick Louisiana State University quarterback Joe Burrow, were sent cameras and equipment to capture their real-time reactions to the big moment.
Goodell said his own home setup will have “three people in here with me and it worked pretty well last night. We were testing some of the technology. So I think we’re ready to go.”
Specialists have apparently worked overtime to ensure that there’s enough broadband and digital security for the high-profile and highly-watched event.
Even if the streamed event is not flawless, the impressive technical feat will still deliver a dose of sports to a country of fans starved for some excitement.
This year’s online festivities will also include a Draft-A-Thon to raise money for COVID-19 relief charities.
“We want to pay tremendous respect to our health care workers, our first responders, all the people who have been just heroic in doing such great things in the community,” Goodell said. “The NFL family itself just crossed $80 million into our Draft-A-Thon and that’s been going up rapidly, so we expect to be able to generate with our fans and NFL family collectively a great deal of money that can go to help people in need right now.”
As for what Thursday night means for the upcoming NFL season, Goodell said the goal is to “be ready.”
“One thing I’ve learned about what we’re going through as a country is you can’t tell a week from now as much less three months from now. So our job is to be ready,” he said. “We obviously will be ready to make alternatives and put public safety No. 1 as we always do and make sure that our fans, our players, all the participants, coaches, everyone, are able to be in a safe environment and make sure that we do it in a way that all of us will be proud of.”
Coverage begins Thursday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN, ABC, NFL Network, ESPN Deportes and will be streaming live on NFL.com and social media platforms. Round 1 begins at 8 p.m. ET.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.