12 Hours He Won't See Again

By Norman Chad
Monday, March 6, 2006

Warning: The following column is about the NFL scouting combine -- more particularly, live telecasts of the combine. We apologize to any readers who find this topic, well, unworthy of your reading time.

Why wouldn't I watch the NFL scouting combine? I just finished viewing 417 1/2 of a possible 418 hours of Winter Olympics coverage -- I missed 30 minutes of biathlon for a shower, a shave and to rearrange my upcoming schedule around the World Baseball Classic -- and I needed to return to grass-roots, gridiron basics.

Thus, I turned to the NFL scouting combine, aka "Mel Kiper Jr.: The Prequel."

(Don't cry for Couch Slouch: It's not like I was sitting there watching NFL owners and players negotiate revenue issues.)

The NFL network offered 12 hours of live coverage of the scouting combine, which, I must tell you, folks, is an awful lot of 40-yard dashes, five seconds at a time.

Presiding amiably over the festivities were Paul Burmeister and Mike Mayock. Burmeister was the host and Mayock -- sort of a kinder, gentler, blander Kiper -- was the expert. I would invite either one of them into my home if they promised not to discuss quickness, leverage, agility, speed, arm strength or mobility.

The scouting combine -- for those of you who tested "normal" in secondary school mental-health examinations -- is an annual collection of NFL hopefuls that player personnel types observe running, stretching and grunting to evaluate for the NFL player draft.

It's "American Idol" with a stopwatch.

Granted, the excitement level is closer to an autopsy than an audition.

(I thought "Yes, Dear" was the nadir of post-modern American television entertainment. Then I saw the bench-press reps at the scouting combine.)

Have you ever sat and witnessed 16 consecutive large men line up for a broad jump? It's like watching water trickle down a windowpane. That was followed by linebackers completing the pass-rush drill. They ran around a lot of red cones; it was strikingly similar to driving in Las Vegas, only without a car.

On the other hand, I must admit that when I saw Tennessee defensive back Jason Allen, coming off a hip injury, run a 4.42 40 live , I got chills.

(If it were on NBC, I would've had to wait until almost midnight to see it.)

We were told that Georgia guard Max Jean-Gilles "struggles in space." Then again, who among us doesn't?

Mayock appeared to know what he was talking about. I even wrote down a couple of his key points, which he made more than once:

"If you want a linebacker, you can get one in this year's draft."

"What it's all about is lower-body explosion."

(Personal note: At the '81 scouting combine for sportswriters, I went from a top five pick to nearly off the board when I turned in a sub-par performance in the "expense-report padding" drill.)

When NFL coaches and personnel gurus joined Burmeister and Mayock on the set, they talked a lot about "character." Football skills are nice, they explained, but their concern is getting "good guys." By what manner do they evaluate that at a combine? They've got running drills for speed, bench-press reps for strength, the Wonderlic test for intelligence.

How do you test character -- see who cries when watching "The Notebook"?

To Burmeister's credit, as Day 4 opened and the camera panned a near-empty RCA Dome in Indianapolis, he said, "On the menu, Groups 10, 11 and 12 -- kind of a thin crowd here to watch."

Indeed, there were maybe 200 or 300 people on hand at the RCA Dome. What was the NFL thinking? They should've held it in Ron Jaworski's backyard; it would've been sold out.

Anyway, next year I'm thinking of having a scouting combine party, because it definitely lives up to its lack of hype. Not to mention -- the best thing about the scouting combine? No replay challenges.

Ask The Slouch

Q. Former Russian pop star Masha Lopatova told ESPN the Magazine that she allows her husband, Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko, one night a year to sleep with another woman. Have any of your various spouses ever afforded you that luxury? (Lawrence Carlisle; Cleveland Heights, Ohio)

A. I don't have the court papers in front of me, but I believe each of my ex-wives indicated I could spend as many nights with as many women as I wanted.

Q. Why did Robert Horry try to bite Jerry Stackhouse's arm? (Jon Ellis; Columbia, S.C.)

A. Have you seen the length of the concession lines at the AT&T Center in San Antonio?

Q. I paid the list price of $11 for your paperback, "Hold On, Honey, I'll Take You to the Hospital at Halftime." Don't I merit a rebate of a $1.25? (Anthony Zanetello; Chicago)

A. I feel bad -- any decent garage sale has that book for a buck. I'm going to grant you the rebate.

Q. When are colleges going to let spectators into women's basketball games? (Tom Simpson; Arlington)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. E-mailasktheslouch@aol.comand, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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