Here’s what we learned from another NFL combine, which ended Tuesday: The potential top pick may have a heart problem; an Oklahoma offensive tackle is faster than Anquan Boldin; Manti Te’o is as slow in the 40 as he is on the uptake; and Jerry Jones wants credit if the Cowboys ever win another Super Bowl, which, come to think of it, wasn’t news at all.
The jury may be out as to how well the Underwear Olympics projects NFL careers, but you can’t beat the soap opera.
Once upon a time, our forefathers couldn’t have imagined that the NFL would televise four days of guys running around cones. But Pro Bowl TV ratings have proved without a doubt that we’ll watch anything if there’s the slightest chance a football game breaks out.
Considering the debates over the validity of all that goes into the combine — Is a lineman’s 40 time really important? Does a bad Wonderlic score mean a guy can’t play? Why does it have to be in Indianapolis? — it’s somewhat amazing it still commands as much attention.
But they come, nonetheless. Deion Sanders in his fright wig, Andy Reid in his mustache and Jerry in his bus. Most had cleared out by Tuesday morning. NFL Network commentators called the few remaining until the bitter end “grinders.”
“Or,” Rich Eisen said, “they already knew their flights were canceled.”
Seriously, though, the true value of the combine is that NFL teams get to know a lot of players a little better and doctors diagnose potentially life-threatening problems. Then there’s the chance to shut up athletes about their 40 times once and for all.
No skill player I’ve interviewed ever ran slower than a 4.5. It’s like someone asking about your sex life. Everybody lies, and they resent the question.
Other than workouts at school pro days, running the 40 at the combine is the last time any of these athletes will do so publicly. If their times are good, they’ll carry them to their graves. Never mind that five years into the league, most players couldn’t come close to their best 40. On his farewell tour, Ray Lewis probably couldn’t catch Rich Eisen.
Of course, the longer a man plays, the craftier he gets. A rookie needs to be fast to make up for his mistakes.
Poor Manti Te’o not only indicated he may not be a three-down linebacker after recording a 4.82 in the 40, he couldn’t even outrun the media. Once again he failed to explain convincingly what the heck he was doing in an online relationship with a girl thought at various times to be sick, dead or fake. I’m not sure what it means for Te’o on a football field, but he has a great future as a spokesman for eHarmony.
Te’o’s time and story may have dropped him out of the first round altogether, but he’s better off than Utah’s Star Lotulelei, whose future is in doubt. Doctors turned up a heart that’s performing poorly in a player some consider the best in the draft.
If Lotulelei needs any consolation, he can find it in the story of Houston defensive back D.J. Hayden, who graphically described for combine reporters what happened to him after a teammate accidentally kneed him in the chest in a November practice:
I’m looking around and I’m getting real sleepy. My left eye goes pitch black. I can’t see out of it. I can see a little bit out of my right eye. I’m praying, “Lord, help me get out of this one.” They rushed me to the hospital and did a scan on my stomach and my chest. … The doctor said he was going to have to cut me open. I said, “OK, just don’t mess my abs up.” So they cut through my sternum and saw the (inferior vena cava), the main vein to your heart, was torn. He put some sutures in, stitched it back together, closed me back up, and here I am today.
By all combine accounts, Hayden’s abs were spectacular.
On a related cardiac note: Dr. Phil has nothing on Deion, who spent a few minutes with Tyrann Mathieu, whose Heisman-caliber career at LSU was wrecked by clouds of marijuana smoke, and declared him fit and on the road to stardom.
“I climbed into his chest,” Deion said of the Honey Badger, “and heard what his heart was saying.”
No offense, Prime, but I’d prefer D.J. Hayden’s doctor.
Player who benefited the most from the combine: Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson, who four years ago was a quarterback at Kilgore College before eating his way to tackle. He ran a 4.75 and might have made himself a top-five pick in the process.
A final note and confession: No scores were revealed from the Wonderlic, a test of reasoning ability made up of 50 questions that must be answered in 12 minutes or less. A good score is generally anything greater than your age. Only one player — a punter, Pat McInally — has ever made a 50. Morris Claiborne, the Cowboys’ top pick last year, made a 4.
In 1985 or ‘86, Gary Myers, then a Dallas Morning News NFL writer, gave me the Wonderlic. I made a 32. Considering all the hoots and catcalls I suffered from juvenile colleagues while trying to calculate how many rubles it would take to buy a bale of hay, it ranks as one of my proudest moments. Almost made me reconsider a career in journalism.