Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Combine this

Today in Indianapolis begins the Blob's second favorite overheated NFL story of the year, right after the NFL draft and right before Roger Goodell's next news conference, during which he'll say, "I thought Ray Rice played for the Clippers. No, really, guys."

Forget that noise. Because it's NFL Combine Time again! 

Nothing gets you ready for football, two weeks after the Super Bowl, like watching guys in shorts with numbers pinned to their shirts run sprints and jump real high and bench-press Volvos. Predictions will be made. Brows will wrinkle over 40-yard dash times, even the 40 times put up by linemen, who'll dash 40 yards about once in their NFL careers. There'll be serious debate over whether Marcus Mariota can make it in the league now that it's been revealed he's only 6-3 1/2 and not 6-4, and whether Jameis Winston can put up a sufficient Wonderlic score if the test doesn't include the question "If Jameis has six crab legs and Billy has five, who do they send to raid the dairy case for butter?"

OK, OK. So I kid.

Seriously, though, the combine is the clearest of all windows into the obsessive over-analysis that is the NFL's dominant meme these days. Nothing better illustrates what a completely corporate entity it is than the combine, which reduces the hopes and dreams of flesh-and-blood humans into little more than a commodities market. Because a commodities market is what it is.

Players aren't players, they're investments. And they're judged as such.

This is, of course, unavoidable, and the direct result of pro football's popularity in this country. That popularity has made it America's No. 1 pastime, but as with everything it comes at a cost. In this case, it's the romance of it all. That began to disappear the first time the NFL moved off Sunday afternoons to Monday night, and it utterly vanished when advertisers began to pay 50 gazillion clams for a minute of air time during the Super Bowl.

Now the Super Bowl commercials are nearly as big an event as the game itself. And that, too, speaks volumes.

What it says is that all this is just bloodless commerce now, and the romance is gone. Everything is reduced to what can be quantified: A 40 time, a vertical, X-number of reps of X-amount of weight. The only pleasure left is imagining how teams would have judged players from the past whose gifts were unquantifiable. Would  Joe Montana, at barely 6-1 and with what was deemed at the time an average arm, have passed the combine? How did Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, two more prospects who would have flunked the tape measure, succeed? Would Joe Namath, a great talent but indifferent student at Alabama, have been deemed a "character risk" because Bear Bryant suspended him one year after a public intoxication arrest?

And how would Bobby Layne, the noted hell-raiser who quarterbacked the Lions to their last NFL title, have fared on the Wonderlic?

Q: You have a big game on Sunday. But your friends want you to go out. What do you?

1) Beg off, saying you have a big game on Sunday.

2) Go out with them for awhile but drink nothing stronger than a cappuccino or two.

3) Have a few drinks but be home by midnight.

Bobby would have answered  the questions with a question: "What the hell's a cappuccino? And can you put whiskey in it?"

Ah, the days. The days.

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