NEW YORK -- At 6:15 p.m. on Day 1 of the NFL Draft, the new prince of Raider Nation -- born to run but completely exhausted -- collapsed into a black Hummer alongside his marketing agent, Mike Conley, and MMG Sports Management's director of business development, J.R. Hensley.
His contract agent, Ian Greengross, accompanied several of the player's family members in a black Escalade. Away they went from their Times Square hotel.
Waiting for Team McFadden at JFK airport was silver-and-black icon Willie Brown.
Waiting for 20-year-old Arkansas running back Darren McFadden to come rescue them was every Oakland Raiders fan who has yet to lose hope.
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McFadden watched "Juno" on the six-hour JetBlue flight to Oakland, but mostly he sat and fidgeted while those around him slept. He was still wired from one of the best, and certainly most intense, weeks of his life.
What was it like to be a millionaire-in-waiting on the streets of Manhattan leading up to the NFL draft? Let's back up the plane, and the truck, to the middle of last week. Now come on and hop in with us.
Looking the part
In an eighth-floor suite on Seventh Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, the president and a top designer for Elevee, a Los Angeles company that clothes many of the top-name NFL and NBA prospects for the draft, are bearing gifts for McFadden. They are hoping McFadden will say yes to shaking Commissioner Roger Goodell's hand in this custom-made charcoal gray suit with three-button coat and vest, white shirt with silver pinstripes, natty tie, pocket square and black Italian leather shoes.
Price tag for the outfit: about $3,000. Of course, McFadden won't have to pay a dime. And what's a measly $3,000 get-up without a limited-edition $3,200 Curtis & Co. watch? He also will receive a $1,000 shopping spree from Elevee. As if you can get anything for a grand nowadays.
"I'm not used to getting things for free, but I could get to like this," McFadden says.
The soft-spoken McFadden -- who is accompanied in New York by agents, a marketing exec and even by actor and professional image builder Steve Shenbaum -- shows up 15 minutes early for a scheduled 3 p.m. taping at the CBS College Sports Network studio at Pier 60. It's McFadden's third TV spot since arriving in New York earlier in the week.
Host Adam Zucker presses McFadden about playing for the Jets, who hold the sixth pick in the draft. "I had a meeting with them, and it went pretty good," McFadden says, trying to remember to smile. (It's not hard to remember: Shenbaum is standing behind the main camera pointing at his own enormous grin.) The day is pretty much wall-to-wall craziness. Still to come are an appearance at the Steve & Barry's store in Manhattan Mall; the official welcome dinner for soon-to-be draftees at the Westin Times Square; autograph signings for at least an hour; and, finally, a nice, long dinner.
"I didn't really eat," McFadden says after the welcome dinner lets out at 6 p.m. "I want to go out to eat." Dinner at the STK Steakhouse in West Village goes well. McFadden emerges with a four-year endorsement deal with Nike.
Rumsey Field in Central Park is popping with excitement. One hundred New York City grade-school students are on hand, as part of the NFL's Play 60 youth health and fitness campaign, for a little flag football. No. 1 overall pick Jake Long, the Michigan offensive tackle signed two days earlier by the Dolphins, is here. LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan and Virginia defensive end Chris Long, too.
McFadden and Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston are supposed to be here, but by 10 a.m. they still haven't arrived.
They've been held up for more than half an hour at the New York Stock Exchange, where they had been scheduled to ring the opening bell. A parade of snafus kept McFadden and Gholston -- who had arrived there on time -- from getting that privilege.
McFadden and Gholston arrive late but jump right into the mix.
A girl named Chelsea asks McFadden: "Is it true you run a 4.2 seconds to the 40-yard line?" He doesn't correct her terminology, but he does cop to the real time: "More like a 4.27."
The kids ask fun questions; the media ask hard ones. Over and over and over again. At Chelsea Piers, McFadden and the other five players invited to New York are scattered at separate podiums. Their families are beginning to gather, but the reporters were there first -- ready to pummel McFadden with questions about his character.
McFadden and his 11 siblings grew up in Little Rock, Ark., the hard way. His mother, Mini Muhammad, was a cocaine user, and two of his brothers belonged to enemy gangs -- one a Crip, the other a Blood.
Stories are running hot about two altercations involving McFadden outside Little Rock nightspots during his college years.
Two paternity suits have been brought against him.
In a span of 20 minutes, 14 different reporters ask McFadden some variety of the question: Will you behave? McFadden's pat answer: "I'm confident that I'll handle myself very well." McFadden's mother, father and stepmother are in the house.
"They just don't know him," says his father, Gralon McFadden. "He's a great kid." Darren sits down for an interview with Sirius NFL Radio. The first question from Tim Hasselbeck is about his "off-field issues." It never stops.
After a photo-op stop in Midtown at Radio City Music Hall, site of the draft, McFadden has more than half his draft entourage in tow at the Niketown store on 57th Street. And for two hours, everybody shares in the bounty.
The shopping spree is only a little bit impressive to 22-year-old Gaylon Muhammad, Darren's sister and closest sibling.
Gaylon, who is one exam shy of graduating from Memphis with a business degree, will be McFadden's housemate wherever he lives. And she plans to take good care of little brother. "I'm probably one of the people he listens to most," Gaylon says. "And I've never been in trouble." By now, a FOX News appearance and a Topps autograph session are in McFadden's rearview mirror. EA Sports and NFL Network parties await.
Morning person McFadden gets out of bed at 6:30 a.m. and catches a shuttle with the Longs, Dorsey, Ryan and Gholston bound for Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. Outside the CBS Broadcast Center, Dorsey's family is pumped up and waving signs.
McFadden's family is back at the Westin, sleeping like normal people.
But McFadden's people are everywhere. Harry Smith, Dave Price and the couple hundred souls gathered for a live CBS "Early Show" segment all realize who is the most popular player on the block.
"McFabulous!" shouts a 9-year-old South Bronx Chargers tight end named Akan, who woke up at 5 to be there with a teammate and their fathers.
The players' next stop is the NFL offices on Park Avenue, then it's off to Ground Zero.
"That was my second time there but my first time in the daylight," McFadden says. "It's just unbelievable. I can't imagine there were two hundred-story buildings there." A little after 11, the players arrive at the Winter Garden Atrium in Lower Manhattan for another meet-and-greet with fans. The crowd numbers about 2,000, including a great many Jets fans. NFL Network's Jamie Dukes, the event's emcee, asks Jets lineman D'Brickashaw Ferguson what his team needs to win a Super Bowl as the Giants did last season.
"Darren McFadden!" screams a face in the crowd, drawing cheers from the masses.
There's an ESPN The Magazine party Friday night, and McFadden and his friends are on the guest list. But he won't be going. He wants to be fresh Saturday when his name is called.
His new life is beckoning.
Before Saturday can end with McFadden joyfully putting down his first roots in Oakland, it begins in Room 3310 of the Westin, a messy one-bedroom suite. McFadden wakes up tired, nervous, tense and still mostly talked out from the previous days of nonstop interviews and activity.
At 10:45 a.m. Saturday, McFadden and an NFL Films crew are stuffed into a standard room down the hall on the 33rd floor.
Quarters are so tight that Hensley, the only member of Team McFadden present, has to sit in the hallway to use his laptop.
McFadden's family and business handlers meet downstairs for brunch, eager to see McFadden, but he stays in his room with Woods, who shapes up his buddy's hair in front of the bathroom mirror.
A stylist from Elevee arrives with McFadden's suit for the draft.
McFadden dresses and watches a "marketing deck" on his media coach's laptop. A smiling McFadden is on the screen saying, "I'm big, strong, fast, friendly, one of 12 children, goofy, I love to have fun, and I'm Southern. I am Darren McFadden."
Everybody laughs and claps when it's over. McFadden's mood completely brightens.
Goodell strides to the podium: "With the fourth pick in the 2008 NFL draft, the Oakland Raiders select Darren McFadden, running back from the University of Arkansas." No trade. No Jets. The first team said to be interested in selecting the draft's top running back jumps at the chance.
McFadden tells the media that waiting to hear his name called was "very nerve-racking. My heart was beating a thousand miles an hour." In a basement hallway a few minutes later, he admits the week of scrutiny got to him. "I'm just glad it's over now." He looks forward to buying a house for Mini and one for Gralon and his wife, Cookie. But that will have to go on the back burner for at least a few days. An 8:30 p.m. commercial flight from JFK will transport Darren, Mini, Gralon, Cookie, Conley, Hensley, Greengross and McFadden's nephew Marquette to Oakland.
As Team McFadden goes from Radio City to the Westin to gather its things, a group of children chases the Hummer. Darren tells the driver to stop, reaches out the window and quickly signs autographs for two boys. Then the Hummer pulls away.
It's off to the races.