Welcome to one of the biggest facades in all of sports: The NFL Scouting Combine.
For starters, if it’s such a big deal why is it held in Indianapolis?
This is the week known as the Underwear Olympics, where pro football prospects ditch their actual uniforms to run and jump and lift under the watchful scrutiny of NFL coaches and general managers. It’s no doubt the world’s weirdest job fair.
Players display talents needed to play the game of football, without actually playing the game of football. It’s like pilots flying in a simulator. An oil-paint artist merely sketching in pencil.
While Ebola, American Ninja Warrior and the Ice Bucket Challenge come and go from our fickle culture at warp speed, somehow the Scouting Combine endures. In what is surely the most riveting TV I’ll never watch, it’s live on NFL Network.
The Combine was exposed as a farce back in 1989, courtesy of Tony Mandarich.
The Michigan State behemoth put on the greatest workout show in the event’s history. At 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, he ran a 40-yard dash (4.65) faster than Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith. He bench-pressed 185 pounds a whopping 39 times, broad jumped over 10 feet and his vertical leap topped 30 inches.
He was a Terminator, a perfect physical specimen seemingly genetically engineered to dominate his position for a decade. After watching his Combine workout, Sports Illustrated proclaimed him the “Greatest Offensive Lineman Prospect Ever” and draft guru Mel Kiper suggested the Dallas Cowboys would “rue the day” if they passed on Mandarich with the No. 1 overall pick.
As you know, the Cowboys picked a guy named Troy Aikman and won three Super Bowls. With the second pick the Packers selected Mandarich, who was cut within three years and started only 47 games in a wholly underwhelming six-year NFL career.
Moral to the story: There is no direct correlation between excelling at the NFL Scouting Combine and playing NFL football. Wowed by his workouts, some scouts projected Ryan Leaf as a better quarterback than Peyton Manning. And nobody – including the Cowboys – was impressed by the 5.01 40-yard dash ran in 2003 by a small-college dude named Tony Romo.
Let me know if any of these all-time Scouting Combine record-holders rings a bell: Donald Washington (vertical jump), Jamie Collins (broad jump), Jeffery Maehl (3-cone drill), Jason Allen (20-yard shuttle), Brandin Cooks (60-yard shuttle) or Stephen Paea (bench press). Only Combine hero whose performance has (so far) translated to stardom in the NFL? Chris Johnson and his 4.24 40-yard dash.
The NFL Scouting Combine isn’t the most overrated event in sports, but it’s undoubtedly on the short list:
10. Tour de France – Bunch of drug cheaters who’ll never drug cheat as well as Lance Armstrong.
9. Kentucky Derby – Because, um, they’re horses. Not athletes.
8. Army-Navy – Sorry, not anymore.
7. Indianapolis 500 – Once the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, it’s long been swallowed up and digested into tiny, irrelevant bile by NASCAR and its Daytona 500.
6. Any Heavyweight Boxing Championship Fight – Epic? Really? Fine, then name the current champ. No way you guessed right, because (far as I can tell) there are actually three including an American you’ve never heard of. Wladimir Klitschko (WBA), Ruslan Chagaev (WBA) and Deontay Wilder (WBC). Once upon a time there was Liston, Ali, Frazier, Foreman and Tyson. Sigh.
5. College Basketball Post-Season Conference Tournaments – Hailed as March Madness, they’re merely meaningless foreplay before the real fun begins.
4. Winter Olympics – Sold as a global event, but barely one-third of the world’s nations (68 of 196 at Sochi in 2014) participate. And way less than that can relate to events like Ice Dancing, Curling and Biathlon.
3. NFL Scouting Combine – Things tend to change drastically when they put the pads on.
2. Opening Day – Baseball hypes this as a national holiday, but it represents exactly 0.61 percent of the six-month, 162-game season.
1. Heisman Trophy – Not including Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the last 15 quarterbacks to win the storied hardware: Andre Ware. Ty Detmer. Gino Torretta. Charlie Ward. Danny Wuerffel. Chris Weinke. Eric Crouch. Carson Palmer. Jason White. Matt Leinart. Troy Smith. Tim Tebow. Sam Bradford. Cam Newton. Johnny Manziel. I rest my case.
A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He currently lives in McKinney with his wife, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.