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#pounditFriday, December 2, 2022

Time to welcome back the NFL Combine aka the Underwear Olympics

This week marked the opening of the NFL’s post-lockout franchise tag window. If that sentence all but made you plotz then let’s face it, you are a diagnosable football fan. If you are not at that level yet perhaps you are aware that Wednesday is the beginning of the NFL’s annual cattle, er, casting call, the NFL Scouting Combine. If you have made it to this sentence without fully understanding the significance of the initial two statements written here, first I applaud you. Second, just know that over 300 prospects for pro football’s April draft will be descending upon Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the next week where they will be judged on a number of variables, from speed and agility, to math skills, and presumably their ability to interpret the sardonic irony imbued by a New Yorker cartoon.

I should probably note at some point that I have always been envious of the awe-inspiring physical talents of sports figures. I, too, desired to be an athlete once, but that dream died at some point during my conception. Alas, I am left to make half-hearted attempts at trying to recreate what an athlete experiences or at least make bad puns while doing so.

To its credit, though its meteoric rise in popularity has proven to be confounding at times, the growth of the NFL Scouting Combine has respectably kept pace with that of Commissioner Roger Goodell’s head. The NFL now follows this event in lockstep. If a muscle contracts, you will see it. If a player contracts indigestion, you will hear about it. Failure to perform? Yep, you’ll be hearing about a player’s reduced contract come summertime. Fortunately, though, the network heads have decided not to televise the drug screening. Yet.

When you consider the amount of stock placed on the seemingly innocuous results of the Combine’s evaluations, it should come as no surprise how much one’s status is affected by the event. We’ve all come to understand how much apart of football vertical jump, 40-yard dashes, and keg tosses are. But to experience what the players go through during this week-long bonanza is to truly appreciate what the hoopla is all about. Sports pundits have typically called into question the efficacy of the Combine. To put it another way, people who use the word “efficacy” usually don’t have the athletic ability to complete these tests, so thus the denigration.

Naturally, the only way to get to Indianapolis this week is to buy a ticket (not cost-effective given the salary paid to me by the proprietor of Larry Brown Sports), get an invitation to the event (not happening in this lifetime or the next 5000), or simply pass one’s self off as the forgotten Manning brother (which I’ve come to realize is grossly illegal). Thus, I am left to try and tackle what hundreds of NFL hopefuls will be experiencing over the next week in an effort to prove myself NFL-worthy, or at least to try to validate myself as being more athletic than the most superior of gastropods.

I failed the first test: I was too lazy to seek out a reliable source of information, so I consulted Wikipedia on the testing parameters. Of course I also did this while eating. Strike two.

First up, the 40-yard dash. Certainly, forty yards doesn’t sound as daunting as, say, that mile they make you run in grade school to get your Presidential Sports Award certificate for participating. I doubt that President Taft ever did the shuttle run, but I digress. As I prepare myself mentally for the all-out sprint awaiting me, I begin to appreciate why other countries remain on the metric system. I didn’t have the use of a stopwatch for this exercise in futility, though a sundial probably would have worked just the same. In this famous test, a tenth of a second or two can be the difference in millions of dollars and being a talked-about draft pick or another plebian confined to the bench. I knew I was doomed when, right before I lined up, I was looking for the water stations. After a couple of futile efforts, I decided to use long division to calculate my time. I was a little generous, so I rounded down to 2.5 seconds. Not bad, right?

Next was the bench press. I wiped the sweat from my brow when I realized there would be no touches or rope-climbing at the NFL combine. Score one for the sportswriter. However, the fears soon returned once the realization set in that a participant had to bench 225 pounds at once, not combined over a fiscal quarter. Since there was no one around named Magnus to spot, I moved to the next test: vertical jump. What, no ladder or moonbounce? Next!

Standing broad jump? I spent more time questioning the inclusion of this since even the Olympics removed this from their program 90 years ago. I’ve come to realize these types of athletic moves are lot more difficult to be done solo than with the assistance of menacing bullies.

After was the shuttle run, but following hours of procrastinating and shouting expletives for deciding to go through with these shenanigans, I decided rest was in order. By the next day, I determined that my NFL future would not be mapped through an analysis of strength, speed, jumping ability, or anything that required coordination. It was clearly time to move on to the off-the-field evaluations.

Injury evaluation? Tendonitis in my right middle-finger. (Hey, I do live in Los Angeles.) I told the doctor that I was a gamer and that I could play through it. After intermittent bouts of laughter, he sent me on my way. Physical measurements? I had no idea this only meant height and weight. I’ve never seen a nurse get so angry at a bout of miscommunication. Drug screen? Uh, let’s maybe put this one off for another day.

Then, came the two big tests: The Wonderlic Test and Cybex Test. Everyone knows the Wonderlic Test from frequent references during broadcasts. It unsurprisingly seems like Wonderlic score good, football ability bad. I took a sample version online and put a dent into this theory. My resulting score put me on par with a goldfish and a poorly-trained hippopotamus. Based on Darwinian precepts, I should have met my demise by consuming a couple of silica gel packets or three. Hey, at least I beat the odds. I couldn’t find any way to properly do the Cybex Test, though I’m not sure that really would have mattered anyway. On an unrelated note, I did watch Bloodsport twice in the last week. That has to count for something.

Well there you have it. The NFL Scouting Combine. It certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. Somewhere out there this week, young impressionable athletes will be putting their talents on display, hoping to become the next big NFL star by actually accomplishing the tasks presented to them. At the same time, aspiring sportswriters will be contemplating their future in documenting these athletes as they precariously hang by their underwear from their lockers.

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