NEW YORK — Geno Smith stepped onto the red carpet in front of Radio City Music Hall with a smile on his face. Not a guarded smile, not a nervous smile. Just a smile.
Sunglasses hid the bags under his eyes. The grind of the pre-draft process was coming to an end, and the biggest night of Smith's football career was about to begin. All Smith could think about was getting on the field.
"That's what I do, I play ball," Smith said. "That's what I'm all about."
But for the West Virginia quarterback, the hardest part of the draft process was in front of him.
Smith arrives at Radio City Music Hall shortly after 6 p.m. ET. The combative nature of his Wednesday interviews is gone, replaced with a smile and diplomatic answers.
"I'm extremely blessed to be here and representing my university," Smith said.
The first Mountaineer comes off the board
The tension is high in the green room. Seven picks have come off the board, and Smith's name hasn't been called. The teams at the top of the draft are favoring offensive linemen over quarterbacks.
It's just after 9 p.m. when Smith's teammate Tavon Austin becomes the first Mountaineer off the board with the No. 8 pick, a victory for Smith and the university he represents.
Stedman Bailey joins Smith at his table, as the quarterback covered the cost to bring his receiver along for what is expected to be a historic night for West Virginia. For all the heat Smith took for his leadership, his actions suggest that those around him come first.
Smith and Bailey's feelings don't compare to those that come from Austin's family at his table in the green room, though.
"They cried," Austin said. "They cried like babies out there."
The first quarterback comes off the board
It's 10:05 p.m. The Buffalo Bills are on the clock. After trading down from the No. 8 pick, the value is right for the team to address its need at quarterback.
They do just that, but Smith is still left hanging in the green room. Florida State's E.J. Manuel is the pick.
ESPN's live coverage shows Smith staring in disbelief, his chin in his hand, and the bags under his eyes growing.
The night Smith has been dreaming about is becoming a nightmare.
Not the birthday she had in mind
Thursday is Tracy Sellers' birthday. Geno Smith's mother couldn't have imagined a better way to celebrate. But NFL teams weren't as interested in joining the party.
Smith spent Wednesday defending his character, saying anyone questioning him is questioning how he was raised and insulting his mother.
Sellers is wearing a bracelet, a surprise present from her son. The birthday gift is far from everyone's mind at the Smith table, though, as the fall continues.
The clock has crawled passed 11 p.m., 28 picks are in the books, and Smith's name still hasn't been called.
The Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens are on the clock. Nineteen players have stepped on stage to shake the commissioner's hand and celebrate the realization of a lifelong dream.
But not Smith. In fact, he's no longer in the building. Cameras chase him as he exits.
"I'm holding up fine," he insists before declining an on-camera interview.
On Friday, Smith will live a much different version of his dream than he envisioned. He will most likely still get to step on stage and shake the commissioner's hand. He will return to Radio City Music Hall to face his critics. But he will do it all without his classmates, and without the glamour of Thursday night.
When the smile does finally return to Smith's face, it will be nothing in comparison to the chip on his shoulder.