I had the opportunity to be at James Conner's draft party on Friday night. I met his family and watched the angst leading up to his drafting and the joy that followed. I arrived with my photographer, Mike Jackson aka "Jax" at 5:15 p.m. to the Buffalo Wild Wings in Erie, Pa. We met Conner's mother, Kelly, and interviewed his high school football coach Mark Soboleski.
Conner arrived around 7 p.m. and then the anxious waiting began. Surrounded by dozens of friends, family, and cameras (ESPN, NFL Films an Erie TV station and the Post-Gazette were there too), Conner watched as pick after pick came off the board. But his name wasn't called.
I noticed his body language devolve as the night stretched on. His shoulders began to slump. His head was down. His hands cradled his chin at times. He started looking at Instagram to distract himself. For the second night in a row his name wasn't being called. But everyone in the room was staring at him with high hopes and expectations.
Finally he got a phone call just after 11:30 p.m.
People who know the draft know that means you're golden. Coaches almost always call players before drafting them. So at this point the crowd knew something good was happening but just didn't know which team it would be.
The Eagles, Seahawks, Steelers. and a handful of other teams still had picks left.
Conner found out first over the phone from Coach Mike Tomlin, but it was as if it wasn't real to James until he saw it on TV. Because when Arthur Moats stepped to the podium and announced the Steelers were taking Conner with their 105th pick, he just lost himself in emotion. He slumped over and then flexed his muscles in two jerky motions. He must have felt relieved and proud and vindicated all at the same time.
All of the hours on the field, in the weight room, and the dozen chemotherapy treatments he received, all led up to this moment.
His dream came true and he would be playing back in Pittsburgh - just a couple of hours down I-79 and right back in Heinz Field, where he starred for Pitt.
I guess dreams do come true. This time, I got to witness one first hand.
It was incredible to share in Conner's joy. I was the first reporter to interview him after he became a Steeler. People were hugging me. It felt like I was floating.
I can't imagine how James felt. We didn't pull out of Erie until 12:15 a.m. and still had two hours on the road back to Pittsburgh. But I was so inspired, that I decided that I HAD to put together a full report for our morning newscast. No one would have really blamed me if I didn't put together a new report because I had already done a report for 11 p.m. Friday night and the newscast could survive by simply playing the raw video of the draft moment. But I knew it would be much more powerful to tell the whole story.
So I listened to all of the interviews we did with Conner's parents, his brothers, his aunt, his grandmother and his coach. I wrote a full story, revised it twice, recorded my voice, and handed a script to a great editor who was able to get it on the morning news.
Here is that report: