NEW YORK » This draft was no party.
Between the boos raining down on commissioner Roger Goodell and the uncertainty created by a bitter labor battle, the NFL Draft opened yesterday lacking much of its usually festive atmosphere.
What it wasn’t missing was intrigue and surprises — at least after the Carolina Panthers made Cam Newton the first pick.
The Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner as expected went to the worst team in the league — and vowed to fix that immediately. Newton led Auburn to an undefeated season and its first national championship since 1957.
“I’m ready to change this whole organization around, to go from worst to first,” he said. “Just being a Panther is the most special part about this.”
Before Newton, decked out in a Carolina cap and gray three-piece suit, took that familiar walk across the stage to shake the commissioner’s hand — a draft-day staple — Goodell had been hearing the displeasure of fans worried that labor strife might interfere with the upcoming season.
Goodell was booed as he prepared to conduct a moment of silence for victims of the devastating storms that ripped through the South. He responded to their chants of “We want football!” by saying, “I hear you. So do I.”
The labor unrest led to speculation not many trades would be made yesterday. But just six picks in, Atlanta cut a massive deal with Cleveland. The Falcons gave up five picks over the next two seasons, including this and next year’s first-rounders, and moved up from No. 27 to grab Alabama receiver Julio Jones.