Jun 4, 2019
- Covered the Broncos for two seasons with the Denver Post
- Graduate of the University of Houston
- A native of Jackson, Miss.
Cameron WolfeESPN Staff Writer
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — There is no way to prepare for a 315-pound defensive lineman suddenly leaping for a shoulder-bump embrace with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. But if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready. Christian Wilkins’ colorful connection with Goodell became the must-get photo of the 2019 NFL draft, and Miami Dolphins staffers knew it was the moment that should grace the famed elevator at Hard Rock Stadium.
The interaction with Goodell, which resembled something out of a feel-good Hollywood flick, came shortly after the Dolphins drafted Wilkins at No. 13. It immediately received national publicity, and the Dolphins quickly moved to use the image to adorn their East Gate elevator.
“First thing I thought was did we get the shot? I saw our shot and said it was perfect,” Dolphins creative managing director Surf Melendez said. “The picture decision was easy. It happened right in front of us.”
Welcome to Miami @cwilkins42! @MiamiDolphins @NFL @nflcommish @HardRockStadium pic.twitter.com/62tHmY0pjQ
– Jason Jenkins (@jasonljenkins) April 26, 2019
About eight hours after the draft’s first round, the shot of Wilkins in midair connecting shoulder-to-shoulder with an astonished Goodell glistened on the doors of the stadium’s main elevator as Dolphins employees walked in for work Friday morning. Wilkins, the constantly smiling rookie brought in by general manager Chris Grier to be a key cog on defense in Miami’s rebuild, said the moment on stage with Goodell was a result of extreme excitement.
“He was way more solid than I thought. He has some oomph. It kind of hurt me a little bit. He’s a pretty solid guy,” said Wilkins, the Clemson defensive lineman selected with the 13th pick. “I’m glad he was able to come back out for the 14th selection. He almost didn’t make it there, but I’m glad he did.”
In the days that followed the draft, Wilkins said he was stopped several times in airports by people who recognized him as the guy who gave Goodell the shoulder bump.
“People will see me and they’ll just go up and, I’ll say, ‘All right! Hey! Why not?’ Yeah, I do it. Of course,” Wilkins said. “I know what [index finger pointed in the air] means. Mr. Goodell didn’t.”
Dolphins employees at Hard Rock Stadium felt Wilkins’ energy daily for the next few weeks every time they approached the elevator. It’s hard not to smile when you see that picture.
But Wilkins’ memorable moment wasn’t the first photo to grace the Dolphins’ elevator.
The Dolphins have been decorating the elevator with vinyl photo wraps since September 2016. It all started because a lawyer wanted to feel the inspiration of Sunday’s wins during the monotony of the work week.
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Marcus Bach-Armas, the Dolphins’ senior director of legal and governmental affairs since 2010, was flipping through game photos on the Monday after an overtime victory against the Cleveland Browns. He believed everybody’s morning would flow better if they got a reminder of the joys that make work worth it.
“We’re too busy [to] look at highlight reels every morning, so I talked to a few coworkers and came up with the idea to create a highlight with the elevator wrap,” Bach-Armas said. “The idea is in essence to have a highlight delivered right to our employees’ eyeballs. You feel like you’re part of something special. It’s unavoidable inspiration.”
The Dolphins encourage their employees to be creators no matter what their job title is — especially under president and CEO Tom Garfinkel. The culture that is preached on the football side relates to the whole organization, with examples such as employee lunches from the same company that makes the players’ food and an employee gym at the stadium. This perspective brings all sides of the Dolphins organization together even though they work in different buildings 10 miles apart (the players practice at a facility in Davie, Florida, while employees work at the stadium in Miami Gardens).
Now every person who enters Dolphins headquarters at Hard Rock Stadium gets a little taste of what the organization is about in a colorful way.
Some of the elevator wrap’s magic is in the details of how it comes together in such a quick manner during the NFL season.
There are about a dozen people involved in bringing the elevator to life. The vinyl wrap typically highlights the best action picture from Sunday’s game — and it has to be up on the elevator every Monday morning before employees arrive.
The Dolphins send photographers to shoot each game, and part of the group’s workflow is to put candidates for the elevator wrap in a folder for Melendez, who then selects the winning shot. That choice is made about 30 minutes after the game ends, and the chosen photo is sent to the Dolphins’ print vendor, Darkhorse Inc.
It typically takes Darkhorse a few hours to get the photo ingested, printed out, rolled out and transported to the stadium. Once the vendor’s workers are at the facility, the wrap takes only about 15-to-20 minutes to install.
#MiamiMiracle @HardRockStadium @KDx32 pic.twitter.com/Y696zNzyGE
– Jason Jenkins (@jasonljenkins) December 10, 2018
“Those guys are magicians,” Melendez said. “These aren’t asks that are typical or easy. But they make it look that way.”
It isn’t just game photos that get love on the elevator. During the offseason, other parts of the organization get prime real estate on the movable doors, which highlight events such as the Dolphins’ Cancer Challenge, Roger Federer hoisting the Miami Open trophy or the Rolling Loud concert.
The most popular elevator wraps — such as Wilkins’ celebration, Jakeem Grant high-fiving Albert Wilson on his way to a Week 3 touchdown, and the Miami Miracle — have drawn a lot of love on social media. But the prime purpose of the elevator decor is still what Bach-Armas wanted when he presented the idea: inspiration and a sense of togetherness for Dolphins employees.
“It’s become a Monday morning tradition,” Bach-Armas said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into work and seen people taking pictures and boomerangs of the elevator to post on their Instagram account.”
During the Dolphins’ rookie premiere, Wilkins’ mom toured the stadium and loved the elevator wrap of her son. It was a big deal to her. As for Wilkins, he was most amazed by how fast it was ready. It was up when he arrived in Miami the morning after the draft. And he got a chance to check out his hops once again.
“I had to show off my athleticism a little bit,” Wilkins said. “It was pretty funny and something I’ll remember forever, and I’m sure [Goodell] won’t forget it, either.”