NEW YORK—In what many are calling the greatest prank in the history of professional sports, an elaborate, far-reaching practical joke to trick Sam Bradford into believing he was an elite quarterback came to a hilarious conclusion this week when Bradford was not selected in the NFL Draft.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who snickered several times during Thursday night's event, said it was difficult not to burst into laughter as he watched the pathetic Sooners quarterback sitting patiently in his chair, waiting in vain round after round for his name to be called.
"Before I approached the podium to announce the first overall pick, I literally almost lost it," said Goodell, who over the past three years reportedly spent 30 hours each week planning the massive prank. "Bradford had this big, stupid grin on his unsuspecting face. It was priceless. He had no clue that [Rams general manager] Bill Devaney was totally bullshitting when he called and offered that six-year, $80 million deal."
"He bought it hook, line, and sinker," added Goodell, throwing his head back and chuckling. "Hoo boy, when I didn't call his name, it was just priceless—pure dejection and humiliation. It was just so perfect."
According to NFL sources, everyone from team scouts to Bradford's college classmates was in on the massive three-year ruse. Insiders have also praised Oklahoma's coaching staff and players for their role in the prank, saying that without them inflating Bradford's confidence and fooling him into thinking he was good enough to be the starting quarterback of a Division I football team, the whole thing never would have worked.
Goodell also applauded referees for calling unwarranted pass-interference penalties to conceal the mediocre Oklahoma quarterback's frequently underthrown balls. In addition, he thanked All-American Big 12 defensive players for purposely not covering receivers and inexplicably falling down instead of rushing the passer.
"His whole pro-day workout was one big joke," Goodell said. "None of those scouts were from actual teams. They were all paid actors. The real scouts were all evaluating Jimmy Clausen."
Family and friends were reportedly essential to the success of the prank, selflessly feigning support and encouragement for the inept Bradford and happily playing along with his unrealistic expectations of becoming a franchise quarterback. The 2008 Heisman Trophy selection committee also played a major part: After Gino Toretta in 1992 and Rashaan Salaam in 1994, Bradford became just the third player to win the award as part of an elaborate practical joke.
"The prank had so many moving parts I'm amazed it all came together," said Sooners coach Bob Stoops, adding that while the monthly meetings with Goodell were time-consuming, they were ultimately worth it. "One time when Sam smarted off to me in practice I almost blew it. I yelled back, 'You're not even—' but I stopped short when I thought about how sweet the payoff would be two years down the road. That pretty much got me through his entire college career."
Though the prank went off without a hitch, numerous NFL general managers and head coaches initially expressed concerns that the scheme would be impossible to carry out, claiming that even Bradford "couldn't be that fucking stupid." But all admitted that once ESPN football analyst Mel Kiper agreed to be in on the hoax, their fears disappeared.
"Getting Kiper was huge," Redskins general manager Bruce Allen told reporters. "If he doesn't put Bradford in his top five, there's no way we can get the kid to come to New York and watch him squirm in a new suit for three days."
Kiper later told reporters he was initially reluctant to join in on the prank, admitting that keeping a straight face while saying Bradford was the best quarterback in the draft was a lot harder than it looked.
"I had to bite down on my cheek to keep from cracking up," Kiper said. "When I gushed about his weigh-in at the combine, and claimed that I thought his bulking-up showed he had an amazing work ethic, I bit so hard that I actually drew blood."
"But all that hard work felt so good when Sam was alone in the green room with his agent, also completely in on it, who says—and I swear to God I'll never forget this for the rest of my life—he says, 'It's going to happen soon. I can feel it,'" continued Kiper, laughing hysterically. "Oh my God. It doesn't get better than that. Also, right at the end of the fifth round when everybody called Bradford's cell phone at the same time to get him all hopeful? Man, that was classic."
EPSN added extra cameras for the 2010 draft to capture every aspect of the practical joke, offering more than a dozen angles of Bradford's entertaining expression after the Buffalo Bills drafted Sooners sophomore quarterback Landry Jones.
Upon the conclusion of the seventh and final round of the draft, Bradford realized he'd been had.
"They got me pretty good," Bradford said. "I guess I won't be playing football anymore. Well, my shoulder is so fucked up that I can't really throw anyway."