FOLKSTON, Ga. -- Kicking off the ESPN network's 10-hour coverage of the 1999 National Football League Draft on Saturday, Chris Berman bragged about the extensive coverage.
With cameras in 27 of the 31 NFL cities, he surmised, "If you have a Rand McNally atlas, we've got you covered."
But for the 2,245 residents of this Southeast Georgia hamlet on the fringes of the Okefenokee Swamp, the fact Berman and his crew were nowhere near here is what made it so special. This was Georgia cornerback Champ Bailey's day, and he couldn't have lived it anywhere but here, with anyone but his people.
So Bailey didn't follow the lead of the nation's other top-rated players like Kentucky's Tim Couch, Oregon's Akili Smith and Texas' Ricky Williams by going to New York City for the NFL's official draft party. On a day defined by decisions, this one was easy for Bailey.
"When they told me I had a choice, I was like, `I'm going home,"' Bailey said Saturday. "I knew they would do something real nice for me, and it doesn't get much better than this."
This was nothing less than Bailey, at age 20, rejoicing in a "This is Your Life" moment at home, surrounded by those he has known since childhood. Here, in what some would consider a run-down lot in a not-so-pretty neighborhood just off Long Street, Bailey heard the words that will make him the richest man in town (he's already the most famous) -- "With the seventh pick in the 1999 NFL Draft, the Washington Redskins select Champ Bailey, cornerback from Georgia."
That announcement by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue on national television ignited a roar from the crowd of a few hundred that had gathered to fete Bailey on the biggest day of his life.
Black and white, young and old gathered in a lot that had previously held two vacant, dilapidated houses. Saturday, new wood chips coated the tree-lined lot, with a humble stage (built on the foundation of one of the razed residences) to one side and a huge tent to the other. A pair of cable-wired televisions hung from poles so all could watch the proceedings as the scent of fried fish, barbecued ribs and seasoned chicken drifted by.
This was not Madison Square Garden, and nobody wore a suit. But how could the Bailey family throw any other kind of party but this?
"I think the most important thing about this day is, obviously the NFL and ESPN would rather Champ had been in New York, to parade him out, and he chose to be in his hometown with his family and his friends," said UGA assistant athletic director Freddy Jones, also a Folkston native. "To me, that shows you how much the community means to Champ and how much Champ means to the community. It's a big day. But this is why Champ is the player he is, because he's never forgotten his roots, and the whole family's been that way."
Elsewhere, Georgia offensive tackle Matt Stinchcomb, a first team All-American, went to the Oakland Raiders with the 18th pick of the first round, while fellow offensive tackle and former Bulldog teammate Chris Terry was taken in the second round (34th) by the Carolina Panthers.
Defensive back Antwan Edwards of Clemson was a first-round pick, selected by the Green Bay Packers at No. 25. Fellow Tiger Rahim Abdullah, a linebacker, went to the Cleveland Browns in the second round at No. 45.
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