Hello, Cleveland: NFL takes 'blended' draft back on road

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A man takes a picture where 32 teams' helmets are displayed, Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Cleveland, where the NFL Draft will be held April 29-May 1. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

CLEVELAND – All those boos aimed at Commissioner Roger Goodell that have become an NFL draft tradition will be slightly muted this year.

At least they'll be heard.

After going all virtual in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the three-day draft, which has grown into one of America's biggest, non-game sporting events, returns with an outdoor event. Thousands of fans will be separated by their loyalties — and whether they've been vaccinated.

Back on the road in Cleveland, this draft will be unlike any other.

Forced to cancel last year's event in Las Vegas, the league is using lessons learned while plowing through an unprecedented, socially distanced 2020 season and holding the Super Bowl in Tampa, to have a draft that will look much more like normal — well, the new normal — with fans wearing their favorite team's colors and required masks.

It's not perfect, but it's a positive step.

“It feels very good to stand outside at an event site, and it comes at a time where I think we need to do this,” Jon Barker, NFL head of live event productions said as workers put the finishing touches on a 95-foot-high temporary outdoor theater along Lake Erie and next to FirstEnergy Stadium and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

“We have to do this,” he said. “We need to get people out and back to live events and to experience things like this, and the draft is one of those great events that can bring everybody together and do that.”