NEW YORK – Teddy Bridgewater was a delighted dervish here at the Play 60 event on Wednesday. He taught kids celebration dances, called routes for them, leapt into hip bumps with them, gave them a speech (nearly grabbing a microphone from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell), and when he fell to the ground during a mock play, his mother Rose Murphy yelled, "Throw the flag!"
Other NFL draft prospects mostly went through the motions, enjoying the sunshine and the photo opp. Bridgewater was actually playing 60 – breaking into sweats and screams and smiles for the better part of an hour. He jogged in between stations faster than the children did.
Inside, though, there was a hint of a more troubled emotion.
Bridgewater was once projected to go first overall in this draft. He has been blasted, however, for everything from his personality to his body type to his mechanics, and he could fall out of the first round. On Wednesday, he admitted there was "0.1 percent" of him that was miffed.
"More anger," he said, when asked what that 0.1 percent felt like. And when asked about the criticism that he couldn't be the "face of a franchise," Bridgewater straightened his back and said, "I was the face of Louisville, as a freshman. That doesn't even concern me."
It's hard for Bridgewater to be anything but grateful on the eve of his dream coming true. Over the past three years, he grew into a star at Louisville and he watched his mother go through breast cancer and survive. He said Wednesday he plays football "because I love to see my mama smile." He bought her a pink Cadillac this week to celebrate their journey. (Her reaction when she saw it: "Really?!") Rose has always told her son that anxiety doesn't get anyone anywhere, and he hedged on his "anger" on Wednesday by saying "I really don't get angry."
Still, that 0.1 percent has to feel larger than a nagging twinge in his mind. Nobody has been ripped in the past two months like him – not even Johnny Manziel. Bridgewater admitted after his hour with the kids that "I'm only human" and he's had to shut off Twitter and avoid the Internet over the past weeks. He said the wait has been difficult.
"Two weeks seems like two years," he said. "It can be nerve-wracking – it's your career."
Rose watched her son from behind a barricade on Wednesday, cheering for Teddy and pretty much everyone else. She put on a plastic pink mustache and pointed it out to passersby. She vigorously waved over Manziel to give him a hug and spend a few minutes with him. She shrugged off the negative talk about her son.
"It doesn't matter," she said. "You can't change what people think or say. That doesn't define character, or hard work."
The character, it seems, has been defined for a while. Bridgewater left his home state of Florida for what was then a football hinterland. He started for the Cardinals at age 18. He took them to a BCS bowl against Florida and whipped them. Then he faced Miami last January and shredded them, too. As recently as January there wasn't anything negative to point, other than his slightly wiry frame. Add research showing the two most important statistics for predicting quarterback success in the NFL are college starts and completion percentage, and it's easy to see why Bridgewater would be puzzled if not downright pissed.
"That 0.1 percent of my mind feeds on what's been said about me," he said. "That adds to the chip on my shoulder."
So while the debate over Bridgewater's worth will be determined by outside forces over the coming hours, there's also the inner push and pull. On one hand, he is the overgrown kid who is taking in this moment. "I play for my passion," he said. "I could care less about first-round money to seventh-round money."
But that's not the whole Teddy Bridgewater. That 0.1 percent has grown in his mind, and it will grow again if he sits around on Thursday night, watching team after team pass him up. He'll repeat what his mom always said: "Blessings delayed are never denied." But he'll know who's doing the delaying, and he'll remember.
Bridgewater will be genuinely delighted wherever he lands, just as he was happy at every station on Wednesday.
Just don't let the ready smile fool you. There's more than joy behind it.