This past weekend in culmination of months of heightened, whispered anticipation, a group of well-into-thirtysomething men, temporarily gave the slip to their families and professions; and relinquished general responsibilities in order to secretly converge and engage in a private, annual male bonding ritual held sacrosanct since high school.
The guys are me and some friends.
No, we’re not Freemasons, militiamen nor are we on the down low.
We met, as we’ve done for the previous 18 years, to watch envelope ourselves in the NFL Draft. We are draftniks — people with a hyper-geekified interest in an annual, sensationalized, non-event event where collegiate football players are selected, round-by-round, by the professional football teams that will employ and pay them large amounts of cash to play a game they played as children.
We’re hardly alone in our form of fanboy geekiness. This year, the draft returned to legendary Radio City Music Hall in order to accommodate the throngs of fans and media who lined-up early for finite seats to excitedly witness 15 hours of something where the action involves nothing more than teams making picks. Since we couldn’t make it out to New York this year, my friends and I — and nearly 3 million viewers — watched it transpire on ESPN, where it drew a combined 6.42 overnight — an amazing 23% rise from the previous year, orbital ratings for a cable network.
Ever since I once again became a practicing Asian American, I’ve taken a particular interest in the API draftees which, not surprisingly, have skewed heavy to the “PI” side thanks to the inordinate number of Hawaiian, Samoan and Tongan bruddahs who populate NFL team rosters. The Polynesians have more than held their own and in fact, have become a significant presence in the league. This year was no exception as Tyson Alualu of Cal, a Samoan of partial Chinese ethnicity from Kalihi, Hawaii was, somewhat controversially, selected 10th overall in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars, making him the first API to be picked in 2010.
Seven picks later, I was whoop-whooping happy at the selection by my 49ers of Mike Iupati, a 6’5, 331 lb. human road-grader from Idaho via Anaheim, California. But, it was a choice way down in the 5th round that caused me to go mouth agape and spill my beer — one of several ingested that weekend — in exultation.
Two days and four full rounds after Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford (who, btw, is Native American) was selected first overall by the St. Louis Rams, League Commissioner (he announces all the picks save for a few select guests) Roger Goodell announced, “With the 9th selection in the 5th round and 140th choice overall, the Buffalo Bills select Ed Wang, Offensive Tackle, Virgina Tech.”
And with that, for the first time in the NFL, a full-blooded Chinese American was chosen in the draft. Welcome to the NFL, Ed; welcome to history!
A native of Fairfax, Virginia, the 6’5, 315 lb. Edward Kai Wang is the son of Robert and Nancy Wang, track and field athletes who both represented China in the 1984 Olympics. I’d read about Ed in my pre-draft research and he was projected as a mid-round choice. Check out his draft day diary here.
The NFL, perhaps overtly eager to capitalize monetize on Ed’s ethnicity in much the same way the NBA has with Yao Ming, jumped the gun in its initial press information about him, billing him “the NFL’s first player of Chinese descent.”
Not true. A handful, although not full-blood, have preceded him including the legendary Walter Tin Kit “The Sneeze” Achiu (one of the greatest sports nicknames ever) who played defensive back/running back for the Dayton Triangles in 1927 and 1928, making him the first Asian American to play professional football and predating Jackie Robinson’s color barrier-breaking debut by at least two decades. Most recently, Walter’s fellow Chinese Hawaiian Kailee Wong (retired in 2006) and currently, Chinese Jamaican Patrick Chung of the New England Patriots, have blazed the path for him to follow.
Arguably the most successful professional football player of Chinese ethnicity didn’t play a single down in the NFL. Junior Ah You, like Alualu, of Samoan Chinese descent from Hawaii, had a stellar 15-year career in the Canadian Football League and later in the upstart and now defunct USFL before retiring. He had his jersey retired by the Montreal Alouettes and was inducted to the CFL Hall of Fame in 1997.
Ed, for all his history, can’t even lay claim to being the first Asian American draftee from his own college. Korean American Eugene Chung, like Ed a Hokie offensive lineman, was selected 13th overall in the first round by the New England Patriots in 1992. He played five seasons before retiring and is currently a real estate investor and president of the NFL Retired Players Association Jacksonville Chapter.
All in all, 256 players were drafted in 7 rounds of the 2010 Draft. Eight of them are Asian Pacific Islander. Here they are:
1o Tyson Alualu, DE, Cal – Jacksonville Jaguars
17. Mike Iupati, OG, Idaho – SF 49ers
40. Koa Misi, DE, Utah – Miami Dolphins
86. Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, DE, Washington – Philadelphia Eagles
92. Shawn Lauvao, OG, Arizona State – Cleveland Browns
93. Tony Moeaki, TE, Iowa – KC Chiefs
132. Michael Hoomanawanui, TE, Illinois – St. Louis Rams
140. Ed Wang, OT, Virginia Tech – Buffalo Bills