NEW YORK — A new skyline took shape Wednesday morning in the middle of Central Park.
In the most pastoral setting in Gotham, 17 members of the 2010 NFL draft class towered over hundreds of youth assembled for the Play 60 football clinic.
It was just another stop on the dizzying itinerary that began at dawn with an appearance on the CBS Early Show, a meeting at the Park Avenue office of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, a luncheon, a visit to Mount Sinai Hospital, ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange and a photo shoot on the marquee above Radio City Music Hall.
But there still was a reception to attend (with John Legend performing), last-minute shopping and preparations to walk the red carpet at tonight's 75th annual NFL draft.
"It's been very fun, but at the same time, hectic," said Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, likely to be among the first three picks. "Tomorrow will officially be two weeks on the road, living in hotels. It's fun, but sometimes a little tiring. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
The NFL has morphed its annual college selection show into a three-day extravaganza.
A select group of players, their families and friends were invited to New York at the league's expense to be wined and dined in nervous anticipation of where their professional careers will begin.
"I've been telling everybody it's almost like you're living your dream and fulfilling your dream," said Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, one of the leading contenders to be a Buccaneer.
"It's like, 'Man, am I still dreaming about my dream? Or is this really happening?' And tomorrow when my name is called, it'll all come true. I've already prepared myself for a breakdown. I told myself I've got to be tough. Everybody already thinks you're soft. But I'm not worried about that. How can you not be overwhelmed with emotion when you see your dream come true?"
For the Bucs, this year's NFL draft also could be the fulfillment of a promise by the team ownership to its fans. For the past year, the Glazer family, general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris have been unyielding in their plan to rebuild through the draft. They have 12 picks, tied for most in the league, with three in the top 42.
By late Wednesday, it looked as if Suh or (more likely) McCoy will be the Bucs' top pick. Both players visited Tampa Bay recently and are eager to become the face of a once-feared defense.
"It's funny because I know a little bit about that defense through Barrett (Ruud)," Suh said. "I definitely feel I can go in there and play with that defense and help that defense out, without a doubt. I have a great (middle) linebacker back there (Ruud) to help me learn the ropes that much faster. I think I see myself as a versatile player and able to adapt to any situations. I think I've proven that."
"You know they've got a great history of defense," McCoy said. "Warren Sapp, of course, at (defensive tackle). That's what they're looking for. They're looking for another three technique to come in and be the face of the program and bring them back to the style of defense that they've played. I'd love to be a part of it."
McCoy says he'd be happy to be drafted in the top five, but Suh hasn't given up on going to the Rams, or another team, at No. 1.
"I definitely think I have an opportunity," Suh said. "As far as I know, at this point in time, St. Louis has not decided on who they want to take. In my mind, and from what I'm told, I still have an opportunity to be the No. 1 overall player.
"I'd love to be the first pick. That's been my goal ever since I left the University of Nebraska."
Suh is slightly more imposing physically, but McCoy has a bigger personality. He was the only member of the draft class that was visiting New York on Wednesday to grab the microphone from Goodell and address the youth directly.
McCoy insisted on wearing his Dolce & Gabbana prescription eyewear that makes him look more like a professor than an NFL player.
"I always wore glasses. I love glasses," McCoy said. "Everybody is talking about Lasik surgery. That's not me. I wear glasses. I'm the only player in the draft who wears them and people still don't know who I am. I don't get it."
McCoy said don't let the off-field image fool you.
"A lot of people don't think I'm tough because I'm so nice," McCoy said. "But my toughness comes from my father, and my temper does, too. He's got a temper just like me. When I step across those white lines, that temper changes. I'm like Bruce Banner (the fictional mild-mannered physicist who turns into the Incredible Hulk).
"As I recall, Reggie White was one of the nicest people ever. Look what he was doing on the field."
Both players are the product of good families, some of whom accompanied them to New York City.
McCoy's mother, Patricia Dianne McCoy, died three weeks after suffering a brain aneurysm after his redshirt freshman year at Oklahoma. Tonight, McCoy said he will walk the red carpet at Radio City Music Hall wearing a suit with the initials PDM.
"She taught me to be the head, not the tail. To be the leader and not the follower," McCoy said. "Never give up. I almost quit after one year at OU. I called my mother and she's the one who told me, 'Don't quit. We don't quit in this family and I'm not going to allow you to quit.' Look where I'm at now."
By the end of the day, he could be headed to Tampa Bay.