NEW YORK — There’s no other sight like this in sports: An elegant old performance hall, packed with bellowing fans in every color.
It’s the NFL draft, maybe the most optimistic day in sports. And on a day for daydreaming fans, what better attire than the jersey of your favorite player?
It was the shirt of choice for fans filling Radio City Music Hall on Saturday, setting off the hall’s art-deco accents with their black and gold, Honolulu blue, teal, and every other color in the NFL palette.
Anyone can wear a team-logo shirt or cap. Donning a jersey is a bolder statement of loyalty, coming complete with the personality of a beloved player.
Paul Gardner wouldn’t wear any jersey but the one he sported Saturday — a seal brown No. 42 for his favorite player — Paul Warfield of the Cleveland Browns.
“I’m just a true NFL fan,” Gardner said.
The 52-year-old freelance journalist and poet from New York has only been to Cleveland once in his life. He’s always liked Warfield because he was a star deep receiving threat on the Browns teams of the late 1960s — including their last title-winning team, in 1964.
“There’s only one Paul Warfield,” he said.
As Gardner spoke, a fan in a white Pittsburgh jersey — Cleveland’s bitterest rival and the defending Super Bowl champs — interrupted to taunt him.
“You’ll never get one of these!” the man shouted, standing next to a Lombardi Trophy placed in the theater’s lobby for fans to drool over.
Gardner was unrattled. Any place with fans wearing gear from all 32 teams — the AP counted — mix is going to have some confrontations.
And it’s not as if he could hide — Gardner stands over six feet and was dressed head to toe in Browns gear, including an orange hardhat with a white-and-brown helmet stripe.
He wasn’t alone. Not by a long shot.
Green Bay fans Pete and Grant Alex complemented their green-and-gold Packers jerseys with yellow hats. Perhaps a subtle nod to the cheesehead? (At least two pieces of cheese-themed headgear were spotted in Radio City’s brassy halls.)
Pete, 41, wore a green No. 12 “RODGERS” jersey. Although Aaron Rodgers was taken by Green Bay in 2005, Alex only bought the jersey recently, when he realized his No. 4 Brett Favre jersey wouldn’t do in New York.
“I had to sport the current quarterback,” he said.
The 13-year-old Grant left both of his Favre jerseys — he has a New York Jets one, too — at home in Pennsylvania.
He was wearing a No. 25 “GRANT” jersey that was doing double duty representing Packers running back Ryan Grant and Grant’s name, too.
He also owns an A.J. Hawk jersey. Not only does the flowing-haired linebacker not share the kid’s name, he’s also worn out his welcome.
“I never wear it,” Grant Alex said. “He’s nothing anymore.”
Joe Mekhayel probably won’t be stashing the Lions jersey he was wearing Saturday in the back of a closet anytime soon.
His Honolulu blue Detroit jersey had his own name on the back.
Though he knows he won’t be catching passes from new Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, he wanted to point out that he wasn’t the one booing when the pick was announced.
“We need a face of the franchise,” said Mekhayel, who came from Lansing, Mich., to watch his Lions pick first overall.
When he’s not wearing his own custom jersey, he also wears the No. 81 of wide receiver Calvin Johnson, one of the few bright spots in the Lions’ recent 0-16 season.
“Calvin’s just a beast,” said Mekhayel, a former tight end whose high school number, 83, was on the back of his custom jersey.
Mekhayel, like most fans, was optimistic about the future for his team. How could someone not be, looking at Radio City’s stage, built to resemble sunrise on a ship crossing the Atlantic?
It’s only fitting that they host the draft here — it’s always been a place people have been coming to be transported, if temporarily, by people in costume.
With the season’s first fumble, first incomplete pass — and first loss — five months away, there’s plenty of time for the good feelings to last.
“I don’t think they’ll do too well this year,” Gardner said. “But I’ll definitely be a Browns fan.”