Bradford Top of Heap in New York
NEW YORK - Sam Bradford heard his name called as the first pick in the NFL draft, collected a new St. Louis Rams jersey with his surname on the back and took the obligatory pictures with Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Then, as Bradford basked on the stage at Radio City Music Hall, came a subtle gesture from Goodell. The commissioner slipped the former Oklahoma star the official draft card that bore his name as the Rams' new franchise quarterback. It was the ultimate souvenir from another pretty good trip to the Big Apple.
"That was really cool," Bradford said backstage a bit later. "I actually still have the Heisman ballot from when they read that off. So I'll be able to add that to the collection, and it's something I'll be able to look at years from now."
A few months ago, Bradford, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2008, suspected his chance of being drafted No. 1 overall might have been kaput. Or at least severely damaged. A shoulder injury suffered in the season opener against Brigham Young essentially wiped out his senior season.
"When I got hurt, I thought it was going to be a long shot," said Bradford, whose shoulder has been surgically repaired. "I worked hard to get to this point."
The Rams, desperate for a revival, were undoubtedly convinced. Although St. Louis general manager Billy Devaney wouldn't publicly declare that Bradford was the pick before the draft - even Thursday, hours before the prime-time event - the team gave the quarterback the head's up. And for weeks, draft analysts projected Bradford as No. 1.
Still, with the Rams not engaging in serious contract talks with Bradford's agent, Tom Condon, before the draft to seal a deal prior to the selection, the quarterback was only so assured. NFL veterans who have been down this path before, Bradford said, warned him to never rest assured about the selection until it happened. And he listened to that advice.
That made for a long Thursday.
"There was definitely some dead time," he said. "I tried to keep my mind off it as much as possible. I had a bunch of family and friends come in. They got here (Wednesday) night. So we got to spend some time together last night and a lot of time today. They did a good job of keeping my mind off of it."
The predraft highlight? Bradford took the 17-member entourage, which included his parents and grandparents, to the Top of the Rock, an observation deck at the top of Rockefeller Plaza.
"It's probably one of my favorite things to do," he said. "You get up there and you can see clear across all of New York City."
How fitting. From Top of the Rock to top of the draft.
Bradford said he didn't get confirmation until a phone call minutes before the selection with Devaney, coach Steve Spagnuolo and co-owner Lucia Rodriguez.
"We're fired up," Spagnuolo said. "It's just like Billy (Devaney) said, 'This is a special guy.' Throughout the whole process he just grew and grew. We made the final decision when we had to and are looking forward to moving on from here. He's got all the things you look for in a quarterback. We're happy."
With that formality handled, Bradford is eager to get on the field again. The motivation of proving that he's a worthy selection and can make the transition is boosted by the incentive to make his comeback complete from the shoulder injury.
"I'm ready," Bradford said.
Dressed in a tan suit, with a sky-blue shirt accented with a green tie, Bradford sure looked and sounded like a man prepared to face all the pressure and challenges that await.
Does he expect to start on Week 1 as a rookie?
"I can't answer that," he said, chuckling. "I haven't even been presented a playbook yet. I don't know how I'm going to adjust. But I'm going to do everything I can to get on the field as soon as possible."