With the 23rd pick in the 2011 NFL draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected offensive lineman Danny Watkins from Baylor. It was a pick that not even the Giants fans in attendance could boo. Why? Because Watkins had the best cheering section in the house.
For those that don't know, Watkins was a firefighter for four years in Canada who didn't even begin to play organized football until about five years ago. He actually started to play football when he moved to Northern California to attend Butte junior college where he planned to study to become a professional fireman. The football coach there saw the giant kid walking around and convinced him to play.
However, it's not his experience in football that made Watkins the person he is. Much of who he is and the way he carries himself comes from his time as a firefighter. Just as an illustration of the bond he had with the guys he calls "his brothers" at least 10 of them made the trip from British Columbia to cheer him at the draft. As soon as the pictures of him smiling on his phone came up on the monitors, his firefighter buddies went nuts. In the photo on top of this story, Watkins is giving the thumbs up to all the firefighters in the balcony that were yelling and chanting his name.
Afterward, he told me that he and his firefighter friends were invited out by members of the FDNY, who only gave them a tour of their house but also took him to ground zero, where all the men shared stories of people they'd lost. Watkins said that he couldn't imagine losing one brother, let alone 343 on one day and that his experience with the FDNY, who he said he called him their brother, is one he'll never forget.
A lot of people use the cliche that a guy with courage is one that will "run into a burning building." This is guy is no cliche. He really has done that. There's no doubt that his age is a concern. There's a reason teams pick 22 year olds, because they're looking for longevity. But Watkins' age and life experiences give him a perspective on life that arguably no other player in this draft has.
Below is the video of the Watkins' selection, complete with some shots of his firefighter buddies in the balcony.