John Locher / Assocaited Press
Saturday, April 28, 2018 | 7:05 p.m.
The Thunderbirds are used to receiving fanfare while performing their daring mid-air maneuvers. Saturday, the crew shared Nellis Air Force Base with members of the Oakland Raiders organization, who were on hand for an NFL Draft event.
With a pair of jets, an F-16 and an F-35, and a massive American flag in the back drop of the Thunderbirds Hangar, Raiders alum Greg Townsend and Napoleon McCallum helped announce the team’s third day selections along with service members and area youth participants.
The Raiders made five picks in the final three rounds, all of which were aired live on ESPN and the NFL Network. The franchise is relocating here for the 2020 season and they’ve made many appearances in the valley since the move was approved last year.
Townsend and McCallum mingled with several service members stationed at Nellis who were watching the draft on a massive screen set up in the hanger.
“You get to see the men and women who fly these things, that’s the big deal,” said Townsend, who played for the Raiders from 1983-97. “One guy told me this was the highlight of his career. He’s been here for 12 years. That lets me know the way we see them and the way they see us is probably the same. Like rock stars.”
Irvin Ridgeway, fire inspector at Nellis Air Force Base, announced 140th pick of the draft, with the Raiders choosing Maurice Hurst, a defensive tackle out of the University of Michigan.
“I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, I’m just happy to be here,” said Ridgeway, a lifelong Raiders fan. “I got a couple of signatures on my work helmet, it was very nice.”
Maj. Ray Geoffroy, the spokesperson for the Thunderbirds, said the coordination to host the draft has comparison to when the group prepares for one of its air shows.
“It’s cool to see the process, because you see the draft picks on TV and you don’t realize just how much teamwork and communication is going on behind the scenes,” Geoffroy said. “It’s actually very similar to how a demonstration works. Everybody sees that beautiful, flawless performance, but behind the scenes you’ve got dozens of people doing little things in the jets, doing the communications, making sure everything is in the right place. It’s very similar.”
Although a lot of the attention was placed on the Raiders and who they were choosing, Nellis was excited to share the spotlight in a rare chance to promote the base across the world.
“This is an exciting opportunity for the base to connect with the community,” said Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot. “It’s exciting for the community to get an NFL team and it’s exciting to welcome the Raiders to Las Vegas.”