ANNISTON, Ala. — An NFL draft party was held in Anniston on Thursday, until Dee Ford’s family turned it into an amazing church service.
At a nightclub, no less.
As Ford played keyboards and the former Auburn defensive end’s family belted out “God Is Keeping Me,” the 13 large screen TVs lining the walls at Ambitions hardly mattered.
Every other TV showed ESPN’s broadcast of the draft. The rest showed Ford’s college and NFL workout video on a loop.
Oh yeah, Ford, projected to go anywhere from mid-first round to mid-second, was selected by Kansas City in the first round, No. 23 overall. For those who were curious.
About 90 minutes after the party started, Ford walked in in suit and sunglasses and made his way through the room, hugging and mugging for pictures with friends and family.
Amid the smell of barbecue, the hired band’s leader announced that “the man” had entered the room.
The band gave way, and Ford gave a brief speech on stage, saying the night was about more than him. He told the story of his mom, Debbie, becoming a registered nurse.
Then the Fords took the stage, with Debbie promising to spank her son for being late. Dee Ford got behind the keys and a small army of family vocalists, led by Debbie Ford; they decided on the song, and suddenly the NFL draft hardly mattered.
Dee Ford keyed the room into a mood, and Debbie Ford unleashed the story of she and husband James Ford marrying with next to nothing to their names but “a vision.” The vision was on keyboards.
Who knows and why count how many times the Ford family belted out the chorus line? It was about unloading years of waiting, hoping, working and praying in one night of thankfulness.
Dee Ford, who was in Oxford schools before his parents moved to Odenville, came back to Calhoun County to celebrate the night with so many family and friends still here. He was about to realize an NFL dream.
Round, selection number and team hardly mattered as invited guests took in a moment unlike anything seen during ESPN’s draft broadcast from New York.
“This is personal,” Dee Ford told the room before the family laid down its gospel best. “That’s why I didn’t go to New York.”
When the song ended, pastor Lonnie Orr of Christ In Me Baptist Christian Church in Cropwell delivered a prayer for continued favor on the Ford family.
“Can I get a favor from the room?” he asked.
“Favor!” the room shouted back.
Not long thereafter, favor arrived in the form of a phone call. Dee Ford took the stage, put his cell on speaker and allowed the hushed room to listen in on his call with Chiefs coach Andy Reid and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.
“What’s going on, coach?” Dee Ford said.
Reid asked if Ford was healthy and, “Are you ready to roll?”
“I’m ready to roll,” Dee Ford said.
Reid joked about having a defensive lineman who was a concert pianist and told Ford of former Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Mike Reid, who played in the NFL in the early 1970s. Mike Reid went on to co-write country songs, including Ronnie Milsap’s “Stranger In My House.”
Andy Reid put Sutton on the phone, and they discussed Dee Ford playing some outside linebacker and getting after quarterbacks like Denver’s Peyton Manning and San Diego’s Philip Rivers.
“Yeah, we’re going to live life like it’s third down and 8,” Dee Ford replied to Sutton. “Appreciate you coach.”
The room cheered, and news of Dee Ford’s selection was announced on ESPN a few moments later.
Within an hour, which included Dee Ford signing his contract and doing interviews, the service, ahem, draft party came to its inspired end near a place he once called home.
“That’s the way I’ve grown up,” he said. “I just wanted to show them that this is a small guy from this city at one point, you know. I came up, and now this is here.
“I want them to see this scene and see this setting, and now they’re going to listen to everything I say when I say, ‘You can do it, too.’”
Preach, Dee Ford. Preach.