DETROIT, April 23 -- Ronald Bartell Jr. had secluded himself in an upstairs bedroom, and the call came on his cell phone, not the house phone. So his family members, bleary-eyed from watching the NFL draft for nearly eight hours on the living room television, had no idea what was coming.
Suddenly, the name of the Howard University cornerback flashed on the screen, and that's how Bartell's parents, sister, cousin and girlfriend learned he had been selected by the St. Louis Rams in the middle of the second round. Their screams of delight woke Bartell's 2-year-old son, Jaedyn, who'd fallen asleep.
Ronald Bartell Jr. is all smiles after being taken by the St. Louis Rams with the 50th pick in the NFL draft. Ronald's mother, Phyllis Bartell, holds Ronald's 2-year-old son, Jaedyn.
(Gary Malerba For The Washington Post)
The Rams chose Bartell with the draft's 50th overall pick, making him the first Howard player selected before the sixth round, according to the school's records. It made for a joyous day in the Bartell house. His parents, Ronald Sr. and Phyllis, had put off celebrating their 28th wedding anniversary Saturday until they saw how the day came out for their son. It came out just fine when Rams Coach Mike Martz called on Bartell's cell phone, just as Bartell was falling asleep.
"I had started to doze off," Bartell said. "He was like, 'Congratulations, you're going to be a Ram.' I told him, 'I'll believe it when I see it come across the screen.' I almost thought it was a dream."
Family members quickly went to work on two cell phones and the house phone, spreading the news. "That's what I've been waiting for so I could get off this couch!" Bartell's sister, Nichole, yelled into a phone. "I've never watched TV this long in one sitting!"
Nichole shrieked at Jaedyn: "Your daddy's in the NFL!" All Jaedyn wanted to do, though, was go back to sleep.
The family even was unbothered by the comments of ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper on television, saying he thought Bartell would be chosen later in the draft. Phyllis Bartell said gleefully to her son, "It doesn't matter what Mel Kiper says anymore because you're drafted."
Bartell's draft position puts him in line to receive a signing bonus of about $1.5 million as part of a long-term contract. The 50th player chosen in last year's draft, LSU wide receiver Devery Henderson, signed a four-year contract with the New Orleans Saints worth $2.79 million.
Bartell spent the day at the house in Detroit where his parents have lived for the past 22 years, and in which he and his sister grew up. But the pressure of the day was getting to him. While his family members and his girlfriend, Nicole Francis, watched the draft in the living room, he went upstairs at about 3:30 p.m. to be alone. He had his dinner brought to him there.
It was a long, tense day for everyone in the family. "You need nerves and a stomach of steel for this," Phyllis Bartell said as afternoon gave way to evening.
It was a day to stay indoors -- cold, wet, even snowy at times -- and the family ignored the advice of Bartell's agent, Jeff Griffin, to avoid watching the first four or five hours of the draft coverage. The ESPN broadcast from New York stayed on the living-room television practically all day, with only occasional channel-switching to check on the progress of the Pistons-76ers NBA playoff game.
Jaedyn played with his markers and tied a red jacket around his neck to serve as a cape so that he could perform his Superman impersonation, impervious to the weighty issues of the day. Eventually, a crying fit led Phyllis Bartell to insist that he take a nap. Nichole and Nicole nodded off on the two couches in the living room for some of the first round, while Bartell's 16-year-old cousin, Jeff Moss, split his attention between the draft and playing a video game on a small television in the corner of the room. When Moss commented late in the first round that he expected another cornerback, Michigan's Marlin Jackson, to be selected soon, Nichole threatened to banish him to the porch.
The family debated the hometown Lions' choice of former Southern Cal wide receiver Mike Williams in the first round, but the small talk was kept to a minimum. Mostly, the conversation was about figuring out which teams had picks coming up, what positions they needed to fill and which cornerbacks were available.
There was a sense of anticipation in the house when the Tennessee Titans made a pick early in the second round. Griffin said late in the week the Titans had been the club that had demonstrated, by far, the most pre-draft interest in Bartell, followed by the Rams and Cincinnati Bengals, and the agent indicated he expected Bartell to be chosen late in the first round or early in the second. But the Titans, after trading down four spots, selected Eastern Washington offensive lineman Michael Roos with the 41st overall choice.
"When Tennessee didn't take him, I got a little nervous," Phyllis Bartell said. "I was like, 'Oh, Lord, don't let him fall to the third round.' "
The Bartells' wait continued for only nine more picks.
"It was a long day, very long," Ron Bartell said. "After a while, I was just like, 'Forget about it. I know I'll go by the end of the third round.' . . . [But] I'm very satisfied. Top 50 -- how much more satisfied can you be, coming from Howard?"