They Tried to Make Jared Goff Sweat

Tuesday May 3rd, 2016

The Rams kept up the suspense. All signs pointed to the franchise making Jared Goff the No. 1 overall pick of the 2016 draft. After 11 consecutive interviews with NFL teams in one evening at the February combine, Goff felt the best about his chat with head coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead, and he’d even received a tongue-in-cheek text from Fisher on draft day asking if he had any plans that evening.

But with time ticking off the Rams’ allotted 10 minutes and still no word from the team, Jared’s parents started looking around nervously.

Said Jerry Goff, Jared’s dad: “We’re thinking, why in the hell is it taking so long?”

The agents for Jared Goff and Carson Wentz (the quarterbacks both signed with the same group—cousins Ryan and Bruce Tollner) split their time between the two camps, first focusing on Goff, then Wentz. The agents had received no explicit assurances from the Rams, and they too wondered what the holdup was as the clock drained from 10 minutes to five.

Jared’s mother, Nancy, signaled Ryan to come close for a private word. She had previously been assured by the Tollners that the Rams would take Goff.

“There’s no way they’re going to trade this pick,” she asked, “right?”

Ryan’s answer: “There’s no way that’s going to happen.”

Everyone at the Goff table studied a nearby television monitor tuned to NFL Network, which was focused on the Rams war room. There was some scurrying, but little in the way of phone calls. The agents had prepared Jared for Les Snead’s 213 area code to surface on his phone, but now they were peeking over at the Wentz family table nearby to see if his phone was buzzing instead.

“At some point I’m thinking, Wait a minute, have they just completely hoodwinked me on this whole thing?” Ryan said. “But it was important for them to get that exhilarating moment when the phone rings and they’re drafted, and they didn’t want to deprive him of that experience.

“The Rams did a nice job of playing it out.”

Goff got his call. And with two minutes left on the clock, Roger Goodell emerged and said the magic words: “With the first pick in the 2016 NFL draft, the Los Angeles Rams select… Jared Goff, quarterback, California.”

The selection set in motion a new era for the Rams—who return to California after 22 years in St. Louis—and kicked off a frenzied weekend for Jared Goff. By all accounts, his quiet cool never wavered during a grueling five-month pre-draft process that has become, for quarterbacks at least, as orchestrated as running for public office.

“After that, after he got the call and his name was announced, we were flying by the seat of our pants,” Jerry Goff says. “You just don’t have a plan for that moment.”

• INSIDE THE FILM ROOM WITH JARED GOFF: During Cal-Stanford, the quarterback showed the subtleties and savvy of a future franchise QB. Just weeks before the draft, he broke down the game film for The MMQB.

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The Goff family at Jared’s introductory press conference.
Damian Dovarganes/AP
The folks sitting at the table on Thursday night with Jared were the inner circle of his inner circle—mom Nancy, a loan officer; dad Jerry, a former major league baseball player; sister Lauren; Cal head coach Sonny Dykes and former offensive coordinator Tony Franklin (who left for Middle Tennessee State after last season); and Goff’s high school head coach, Mazi Moayed.

The 45-year-old coach at Marin Catholic in Kentfield, California, Moayed found himself playing a principle role in Goff’s campaign to satisfy NFL suitors. In February, a miscellany of unfamiliar area codes hit up his phone, each of them a representative from a different NFL team hoping to spend up to an hour chatting up Goff’s high school coach.

They wanted to know what kind of adversity he’d faced on the field and how he’d handled it, so the coach told them about the three interceptions he threw in the first half of a game against Cardinal Newman, and the five touchdowns he threw in the second half to run the table. They wanted to know about his family, so the coach told them about the loving parents and the ex-ballplayer dad who was supportive, but not overbearing.

One team went a step further.

Well before they traded up from No. 15 overall for Tennessee’s top pick in mid-April, the Rams sent team director of security Steve Miller out to Marin Catholic, 10 minutes west of the San Francisco Bay.

“The teams sort of interrogate you, which they should be doing if they’re doing their jobs well,” Moayed said. “The man the Rams sent—you could tell he had an investigative background. He spent two-and-a-half hours on campus talking to people.”

Miller, an ex-law enforcement officer, led an effort to communicate with as many people who knew Goff as possible, from Jerry and Nancy’s friends in the NorCal area to college kids and bartenders in Berkeley. Ryan Tollner, who represents former top-five quarterbacks Blake Bortles and Marcus Mariota, said the Rams were more thorough in their vetting of Goff “than any team I’ve ever heard of.”

“Les [Snead] kept saying, I’m going to turn over every stone,” Ryan says. “We had some reliable people there in Berkeley who said there was an investigator going around and asking people if they know Jared Goff. What were your interactions with him? Ever see him at a party? Is he a drinker? A womanizer?”

The Rams hosted Goff for a 15-minute interview at the combine, after which the quarterback came away feeling the most optimistic about the Rams. Apparently satisfied with their background check, L.A. worked out a blockbuster trade for the No. 1 pick on April 14, surrendering a package that included two first-round picks and two second-round picks.

* * *

Jerry and Nancy had not seen this coming when, with little discussion, Jared declared himself eligible for the 2016 draft.

“I think he knew he was ready,” Jerry says. “It was never a topic of conversation. It was more of an understanding as he continued to get better and make progress on the field.”

They were hoping he’d be drafted in the first round. Five months later, he was the first of the 253 names called on draft weekend.

His four best friends from high school flew in for the occasion, seated in the middle of the first section in Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre. They’d made friends with former Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott’s grandparents, who were sitting a row behind them, and when Goff’s name was read the six of them erupted in cheer. “It was kind of surreal,” Cameron Croteau, a senior tight end at Boston College who graduated from Marin Catholic in 2013, same as Goff. “We were pretty anxious and nervous, sweating and hoping for the best. And then we just went absolutely nuts. We basically lost our minds.”

Three picks later, when Elliott was drafted by the Cowboys, the boys cheered and the grandparents wept with joy.

Back in Los Angeles, the team had invited several thousand fans to the L.A. Live entertainment complex, which houses the Staples Center, to watch the first pick announced on big screens and party with current and former Rams. There was a raucous kind of reverence about the occasion, not so much for Goff, but for the fact he’d one day play his home games in Inglewood.

“This is special,” said Marshall Faulk, former St. Louis Rams running back and San Diego resident. “The only thing I would compare this feeling to is after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans, and the Saints coming back after playing games in San Antonio. That’s what this type of energy this is.”

In Los Angeles, emcees interviewed current Rams players about the pick. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Goff was whisked away by NFL and Rams media relations to perform media obligations including a live video chat with L.A.-based Jimmy Kimmel.

Jared, described as a “quiet guy” and a “man of few words” by his family and friends, declined to promise Kimmel a Rams Super Bowl in 2016: “I’m going to work as hard as I can and hopefully we do big things down there.”

There would be one last private moment with the friends and family joining him in Chicago. The Tollners found private rooms at neighboring restaurants for both the Goff and Wentz families—Wentz, picked by the Eagles, dined at Hub 51 in River North, and Goff’s crew gathered at il Porcellino next door. They ate grilled octopus with controne beans, crispy pork cutlet in a cream sauce, and slow-cooked steak smothered in crushed tomatoes. Shortly after Jared arrived at 10:30, he stood up and offered a toast.

“He really is a stoic guy,” Croteau says. “He quieted everybody down and said, ‘Thank you all for being here. You’re all here for a reason, and I think you all know that reason.’”

“The whole time, you had to pinch yourself to make sure it was real. We’ve been there to see all the work that was put into that night.”

• DRAFT PICK ANALYSIS: Andy Benoit on Round 1 | Rounds 2 and 3

* * *

Goff and his inner circle of friends (left to right): Robbie Terheyden, Cameron Croteau, Goff, Patrick Conroy, Anthony Anello.
Courtesy of Cameron Croteau

Jerry Goff was a 26-year-old catcher for the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, in the visiting clubhouse at Nashville, when his manager called him into his office. Goff was going to Los Angeles. “You’re headed to the big leagues.”

On May 15, 1990, Goff’s Expos were visiting the Dodgers, facing Dominican hurler Ramon Martinez, who would win 20 games that season and finish second in the NL Cy Young voting. Goff went 0-for-4, striking out twice. Three days later the Expos tripped to San Francisco, near Goff’s hometown of San Rafael. He invited his entire extended family to the game and on his first at bat, after fouling off the first offering, ripped a ground ball past the first baseman for his first major league hit.

“This is apples and oranges,” Jerry said. “It was a big deal to me at the time, but it wasn’t national news. It might’ve hit the transactions in the back of the sports page.”

Jerry says he was a nervous wreck as a ballplayer, the opposite of his son, who seemed to glide across the stage at the draft, through his media tour and into the party. Later, during a brief post-dinner outing at the Studio Paris Nightclub, Jared’s friends noticed the quarterback behaving as though it were any other night with the four of them hanging out, as if he hadn’t just become the 33rd quarterback drafted No. 1 overall in NFL history.

“He has a way about him that’s unflappable,” Ryan Tollner says. “Over the course of the draft process he was just ready to get it over with and get started. At no point did it seem like he was caught up in how big it was, or even how cool it was.”

If Goff had ever been flappable, he probably wouldn’t have made it this far. He was sacked 84 times in three seasons, eventually taking over responsibility for pre-snap blocking assignments in an effort to mitigate the damage, per his ex-coordinator, Franklin. He won just one game as a freshman after leading Marin Catholic to the state championship as a senior. Slowly, painfully, Cal began to turn around, finishing 5-7 in 2014 and 8-5 a year ago. If you subscribe to the school of thought that says wins aren’t a QB stat, Goff is the exception—Cal hasn’t managed to land a five-star recruit since 2010, and its 2014 recruiting class ranked eighth in the Pac-12 per Rivals.com, three spots lower than the previous year.

If college football was a mad dash to put fingers to laces and beat the oncoming rush, the pre-draft process was a slow, calculated grind—and probably way less fun. Goff joined Wentz in Irvine, California, where the Tollners’ Rep 1 Sports agency is based, and worked out with five-year NFL quarterback Ryan Lindley in advance of the combine and pro day. At the combine, Goff heard all about his supposedly too-small hands, and at Cal’s pro day, he endured the silliness of Browns QB coach Pep Hamilton spraying down his hands with cold water before throws.

The Browns would deal out of the No. 2 spot, not that it ended up mattering to Goff. He arrived in Los Angeles on Friday morning on three hours sleep. He stepped off a commercial flight with his family and into a row of black SUVs, which took them straight to the Ritz Carlton across the street from the Courtyard Marriott where the Rams had posted up for the draft. He faced the Los Angeles media for the first time at 2:30 p.m. local time at the Courtyard, where a packed room awaited his arrival.

He faced that inevitable question that well-regarded rookie quarterbacks face and answered it according to the script.

How about that starting job, Jared?

“I’m just going to come in and work as hard as I can,” he said. “I want to prove myself, and ultimately it’s up to the coaches to make that decision.”

Later, Goff and his parents, his sister and her boyfriend dined at the WP24 by Wolfgang Puck on the 24th floor of the Ritz and unwound. Jerry told his son he thought he’d handled it all so well, even the tough questions at the press conference.

“He said he was a little nervous before the press conference, and that was the first time he said he’d been nervous throughout this whole process,” Jerry says. “He wants so badly to prove the Rams right for the investment they made. He’s going to make them proud.”

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