I hope my words can do this party justice, however that is doubtful. The people at Panini sure do know how to throw one heck of a party.
After fighting the construction traffic in Cleveland, we arrived at FirstEnergy Stadium and found a parking spot right outside the entrance where we were supposed to go in. This was the Browns Alumni entrance, and we knew we were in the right place when we saw this on the door:
We were then led to the club level of the Browns' stadium, but first we had to pass through the Alumni Hall.
After going through some winding hallways and up an escalator, we made our way to the club level, where the party was being held. It was nothing short of amazing.
Then there were the two 1/1s I pulled, and both were MONSTERS.
This is a 1/1 Damian Lillard patch card. Pretty awesome stuff came out of these black boxes.
As I mentioned before, the real highlight of the VIP party is the athletes. This year's party did not disappoint!
In fact, there were so many athletes there that I didn't get a chance to meet them all. First world problems, I know.
The party had a top notch DJ in Mr. DJ Kool! He had the place rocking the whole time.
What athlete would possibly be wearing jeans that had "Truth Hurts" embroidered on the side? Why, Jose Canseco, of course.
Canseco's arms were as big as my head. He was the only athlete to literally stay the entire night and mingle with the crowd. He was dancing and having a good old time, especially following the Panini girls around much of the time.
Other athletes who made an appearance were Tom Glavine--who was maybe the nicest guy ever, Trey Burke, Kyrie Irving, Dr. J, Dominique Wilkins, Joe Namath (definitely the best dressed there), and Johnny Manziel. Yes, that Johnny Manziel. He was the surprise guest, and he addressed the crowd from the stage.
It was a feeding frenzy of media as soon as Manziel entered the room. Cameras, both video and otherwise, were rolling. He was swarmed by people until he got to the stage. I weasled my way up front, close enough to him to read the label on his shirt. When he was done talking, I looked up at him, and said, "are you taking pictures?" and he said he was "going to do whatever these guys (meaning Panini) told him." I imagine at events like this Manziel pretty much has to do whatever his handlers tell him, since he is in such high demand. So as it goes, Manziel left the stage and was hanging out with Kyrie Irving for a bit.
I was still trying to stay close to Manziel, waiting to see if he would come out on to the floor to take a few pictures with the crowd. He did, but very, very briefly. He made his way near me and I asked if I could take a selfie with him. He said "sure." So I did!
For all of his antics portrayed in the media, he is a nice guy. My other first in person impression of him is that he is really small. I feared for his safety in the NFL, actually.
I was able to get a picture and an autographed 8x10 with most of the athletes, but perhaps the most memorable was Joe Namath. Mr. Namath took the time to speak to each and every person who came up to him. He was such a nice man, and so personable. When I went up to him I shook his hand, and he asked for a hug! Of course I had to oblige.
As if all these experiences weren't cool enough, the Browns staff also let the party attendees walk around the stadium. It was surreal being in a totally empty NFL stadium, but a really neat experience.
I'd be remiss if I didn't stop to thank Rich Layton for getting me an invite to this party. There were probably just over 100 people there, and it was really exclusive. Let's just say that per ticket, you had to buy a lot of Panini product. I won't say how much, but you can Google that if you want to. Rich is super generous and got several people a ticket. Truly amazing!
All in all, this was a party I won't soon forget. How will Panini top this next year? I cannot wait to see!