For the first time, the NFL draft is in Nashville. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Nashville gets its chance to step up for NFL draft

NASHVILLE — Broadway in downtown Nashville is as lively a place as any in America. The Las Vegas Strip, Times Square and Bourbon Street have nothing on it.

Particularly this week.

For the first time, the NFL draft is in Music City, and even in the days leading up to Thursday night’s opening round, Broadway has been buzzing.

Sure, the honky tonks tend to be full of revelers who don’t care if it’s New Year’s Eve or, well, a weekday in late April. The difference now: Nearly everyone is talking football while the bands on stage are working through their repertoires of Carrie Underwood and Blake Shelton songs.

“This weekend, Nashville, Tennessee, is, in fact, Football City,” declared Mayor David Briley. “This wouldn’t be happening if the league and team had not seen what we already knew about the city of Nashville.”

How much have the locals embraced the draft? Well, 100,000 or more are expected to attend the opening round, with thousands more projected to turn out on Friday and Saturday. Although, by the look of things Wednesday on Broadway — which has been shut down to traffic for several blocks, a fact that might bottle up traffic but doesn’t seem to bother pedestrians a bit — many of those attendees aren’t from middle Tennessee. An informal survey of NFL team jerseys being worn showed 17, including from as far away as Seattle and Buffalo.

Rain, however, is in the forecast for Thursday night, something that didn’t plague Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas in the last four years as the draft has become a travelling circus. That could put a damper on outdoor festivities, though it’s unlikely to affect the business in the restaurants and bars downtown. Might even help.

As NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has noted, the bar — a different sort of bar from those on Broadway — for the draft has been set high by previous cities, particularly Philadelphia. But as Briley and other Nashville residents point out, this isn’t exactly a city of strangers to big events, including the CMA Music Fest in late spring that is even more crowded.

Taking particular interest in this week’s events are representatives from Las Vegas, which has next April’s draft. In several ways, Las Vegas and Nashville have commonalities. Both have a centerpiece street — of course, closing down much of The Strip in Nevada would be much more of a chore and much more unlikely than doing so with a significant portion of Broadway here. Both have a solid entertainment base. Both have become destination vacation spots.

That’s a year off, though. Right now, Nashville and the NFL are joined at the hip. Goodell believes “This is going to be a great platform for the city of Nashville.” The mayor simply smiled at that statement.

By The Associated Press

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