Beginning today in Indianapolis, hundreds of the finest young men our football factories have produced will be sprinting their 40s, weaving their cones, benching their presses, doodling their Wonderlics. Hundreds of media members, more reporters than prospects, will also descend on Indianapolis, and millions of us will consume the fruits of their labor. Just what is the combine about, anyway?
Although the events that would become the combine began in 1963, the modern version is surprisingly recent. In 1992, six media credentials were issued. This year: 450 credentials, not including the NFL Network which will stream and broadcast all the drills over the next four days.
So, yeah, it's kind of a huge deal, but for whom? League scouts and execs have downplayed the importance of the combine for years. Maybe they've learned their lesson. No one wants to draft another Mike Mamula at the 7 spot because he had a great combine. Conversely, no one wants to pass up Emmitt Smith for Blair Thomas because the former had an off-day.
The scouting process involves watching years of actual game footage, something not easily replicated without pads or motivation. A long weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium is a drop in the bucket of information that the personnel people have to digest. For them, and for the players, it's nice, and it's useful, but it's not crucial, and certainly not worthy of the spectacle that's made of it.
But for us? Holy shit, is it important. It's fucking football! At the end of February! Do you have any idea how sweet this oasis looks to us? The league and the media do. The NFL plays it up, makes everyone give press conferences, spaces out the drills to make sure each can be covered in turn. The media sends plenty of folks to saturate us with coverage, because we eat it up. It's football! We'll watch anything even remotely NFL-related at this point of the year. And with labor issues looming, meaning the opening of training camps aren't remotely guaranteed, this might be the closest thing to professional football we get until the UFL season starts up. So, yeah, credential those 450 reporters, and give us 24-hour coverage of kids running back and forth. It's manna from heaven.