Blast from combine past

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on February 18, 2011 – 11:36 am

Forgive me for sounding like a bourbon-encrusted-cigar-chomping-gangster-hunting city editor straight from the ’30s, but it sure sounds that way when you start talking about the evolution of the NFL scouting combine.

The NFL Incubator in Indianapolis has turned into covering the Super Bowl, the Final Four, the World Series. The media room looks like the Pentagon during an air strike. There are more news conferences than a C-Span marathon. The blanket of security makes the TSA look like frat house bouncers. NFL Network televises everything from three-cone drill to the bench press to the stretch.

It’s been 20 years since I covered my first combine as the Bengals beat reporter for The Cincinnati Post, that genre of afternoon newspapering that is deader than land lines and love letters. The NFL didn’t want you anywhere near the place. You didn’t need a credential, but a flak jacket would have been nice.  You had to smuggle out the 40-yard dash times in your left shoe. Now you can check one of the TV monitors.

Now, the prospects’ hotel is cordoned off like a presidential visit. Then, I and the seven other guys that were covering the thing had free run of the place. The lobby. The curtain behind it, where all the teams set up their offices for the week in the rooms lining an indoor courtyard. And if you couldn’t pick off Eric Swann or Huey Richardson or Ted Washington or Alfred Williams or any other highly-rated pass rusher from that ’91 draft, you did what I did in ’92 and got Wisconsin cornerback Troy Vincent on the house phone.

(Not a bad call two months before the draft with the Bengals picking No. 5. Two days before the draft, even defensive coordinator Ron Lynn thought they were going to take Vincent. Then he was informed the pick would be Houston quarterback David Klingler.)

Back then, the problem was hoping the guy from the morning Enquirer didn’t get Vincent because he hit the streets before you did. If he didn’t, you had a nice get. Now, I can immediately tweet LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson’s thoughts. But so can 250 of my closest friends because the only place you’ll be able to get him is that news conference unless you can get his agent. And, besides, NFL Network will have him live as if he’s the secretary of state.

As recently as 1999 (when the lobby was still open), you could still stop Champ Bailey, the best cornerback in his draft, on the way to the restaurant. Hell, even in 2003 you could run across the street and get Carson Palmer as he ever so briefly emerged from the RCA Dome from his workout and got in a car to the airport.  But now you might be cut down by a sniper.

It’s all good. It’s just different.

Back when they didn’t want you, they took the chairs out of the lobby and I remember writing on my computer sitting on the edge of a potted plant. Those were the old Radio Shack computers with slits for screens. They were sturdy, though. When I needed a quote from an expert, I jumped up when I saw a GM walk by and the computer fell out of my hands. It bounced back up off the floor like the ball first baseman Pete Rose would slam into the Astroturf after a third out, and I grabbed it. The GM still didn’t want to sign me even though the computer never blinked and the story stayed on the screen.

The media had unfettered access to team officials and coaches up until a few years ago, when they switched up the entrances to the workouts and interviews. But you can still find them at their entrance, in hotel lobbies and on street corners. I still remember a defensive coordinator named Pete Carroll playing a late-night piano solo on a lonely ballroom floor of The Omni. That might have been the same year I chased around San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk at the same place before he offered that, sorry, he didn’t quite know what to think if the Bengals drafted him No. 1.

And you can still get some help from your friends. It had to be 2000, the year Bengals running back Corey Dillon was a restricted free agent and there was a report the Chiefs might sign him. That might have been the first year I had a cell phone. I was walking out of The Westin and an NFL writer called to tell me a Kansas City official was just coming into The Omni as if barking orders into a walkie-talkie. A couple of a sub six-second 40-yard dashes later and I got a no comment.

The combine is still one of the great events. Even if it’s now an event.


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Posted in Hobson's Choice | 13 Comments »

13 Responses to “Blast from combine past”

  1. By bengalpirate on Feb 18, 2011 | Reply

    Geoff, LOL!!! I have to admit one of my favorite things about your work is your sense of humor and ability to change things up on a regular basis. You truly reflect Americanese English as it has evolved over the last 15 or 20 years with the adaptation/burden of evolution that cell phones, text messaging, tweets, etc. etc. etc. has added to our lives and language. I think the Bard would approve.

  2. By hobsonschoice1 on Feb 18, 2011 | Reply

    PIRATE: Thanks for the note. That first combine was so long ago, The Bard covered it with me. I think he wrote about the top ten from ’91 and called it “Much Ado About Nothing:”

    Russell Maryland, Eric Turner, Bruce Pickens, Mike Croel, Todd Lyght, Eric Swann, Charles McRae, Antone Davis, Stanley Richard, Herman Moore.

    A few hits, more misses.

  3. By 2ndboot on Feb 18, 2011 | Reply much as I love the Bengals and football this is all just looking a bit to self important from the NFL. I mean if heads of state were there as you touched on then perhaps this dog and pony show would actually mean something in the grand scheme of life, but the sad news if even IF the Bengals pull a Bengal in the draft AGAIN and even IF the Steelers ad Pats get the best players AGAIN my life and the lives of most people are not going to drastically change. Nobody will get a tax break, ticket prices won’t go down, no lives will be saved or lost and PBS probably won’t lose it’s moorings and end up cast off adrift in the Ohio river bound for New Orleans. It basically means the most Bengal fans can hope for is another one and done in the playoffs, but most likely we’ll just get another high pick in 2012 and the whole thing repeats itself next year.

  4. By overthroensamoan on Feb 18, 2011 | Reply

    That 91 first round had more misses than a Nolan Ryan fastball. Don’t think I can remember another year where just about every team bit the bullet. Compared to most of the 1st rounders that year the Bengals actually did pretty good with Al Williams. At least they didn’t get stuck with a colossal bust. How about Marinovich,Dan Mcgwire,Antone Davis and Charles McRae.

  5. By hobsonschoice1 on Feb 18, 2011 | Reply

    Wow, Dan McGwire. Good call. I remember Paul Brown thinking he was going to be pretty good and if Seattle hadn’t taken him at 16, I wonder what would have happened with Cincy at No. 18.

  6. By mwindle1973 on Feb 18, 2011 | Reply

    Yeah I always appreciate Hobs’ writing and his interactions with us here. Your a true throwback Hobs. What you do is still actually respectable journalism. Most of what we get now days is good old fashioned yellow jornalism. This is going to be an intersting draft. I hope we don’t let the Carson situation effect our draft plans. We need to continue to draft the best players available and not chase needs. This would be a great year to stock up the D and O lines if the players are there when we pick. There will be good ones through at least the 4th round and maybe beyond.

  7. By mwindle1973 on Feb 19, 2011 | Reply

    I’ve said this is a deep DE draft. Not bad at DT either. But it may be more stacked than I thought. Read an article by Mike Mayock today. He’s saying this is the most talented DE field he’s seen. He has 9 DEs with 1st round grades. He notes that on average 4 DEs are chosen in the first round. And he is guessing that anywhere from 2-4 of those guys will be sitting there in the second round. Which means guys with 2nd round grades are gong to get pushed back, and guys with 3rd round grades the same, etc, etc. This opens things up for us with those first 3 or 4 picks. If we want one those DEs. We can get them with pick 1 or 2. Meaning we could get the CB Petersen or the WR Green and still get a top tier DE in round 2. 2006 was a year similar, where a run on LBs happened, with 9 going in the first 38 picks. We ended up in our first 4 picks (in order), JJoe, Whit, Rucker & Peko. Media didn’t like our picks at the time other than JJoe. Thought we reached for Whit and didn’t need an OT.

  8. By jamison007 on Feb 19, 2011 | Reply

    @2ndboot – actually, there is quite a bit for each of us to individually learn and grow from while rooting for our team. For me, I want to look to my team and coach as mentors. How they handle things teaches me a lot about hot to handle different situations in my life. The notion that the Bengals are doomed to continuous dissapointment is self inflicted and I don’t care to subscribe to that. Carson and this team, along with the Reds, have inspired me to take charge of my personal fitness. Even if all I get out of this is some workout warrior idioms and jargon that keep me running every week, so be it. I do submit that with pride and emotion we can all create determination and energy to fuel or success. That is why so many of us Bengal fans are dedicated to seeing our team turn into the perennial winner it is going to BE. Given all the negative vibes we get dished by other teams and even our very own fans, can you imagine just how darn SWEET it is going to be when we can rejoice at the end of a Super Bowl!!!??? DO YOU? I gotta do it, right straight from the Ocho himself, “CHILD PLEASE”!

  9. By mwindle1973 on Feb 20, 2011 | Reply

    Geoff, there’s one thing I was wondering about that’s kind of unclear and I was hoping you clear up. Assuming we still have no CBA when the draft starts. Where does that leave draft day trades? Will teams still be able to trade picks? Or will there be no draft day deals? Because for once we at least have a shot at getting a trade down offer. Not likely. But this draft has 4 starts that are considered equally as talented. And we have the 4th pick. Now a team could pick a QB and/or WR during the first 6 picks. You may have a team sitting at 6 or 7 hoping one of these guys falls to them. Now imagine what’s predicted happens. And 3 of these guys come of the board in the first 3 picks. Then we are sitting there with the last guy right in front of us. And maybe a few teams that want him real bad. This would be a great draft to have extra first day picks.

  10. By tepidfan31 on Feb 20, 2011 | Reply

    There is no way that any of us can hazard a guess, as to whom we will pick in this draft! There are seven different scenarios, from the best Palmer, Joseph, and Benson returning; to the worst all three of them leaving, then five in between. Other than the “best” this is a Pandora’s Box, nothing good can come from it. I assume that Palmer goes; then we probably can trade for an average QB, or draft one, who either fails like Klinger and Akili, or takes a few years to develop. Either way, the offense will not be as good as last year, and it will force the Bengals to run the ball 70% of the time; and without a good passing attack, this becomes much easier for a defensive coordinator to defend, but we need Benson to do even that. I believe that the only way we can be somewhat competitive is to draft defense. Our defense is fairly good, and adding a few talented pieces, it may become dominant. This is the most difficult off-season in my memory. The fans want and deserve a winner; it’s not like the first few years in the league, when the fans felt great just for a couple of wins. Regardless as to how this plays out, MB will probably take a big hit in the pocket; for why should the fans be expected to stay on the bandwagon, when it rarely goes anywhere, except in reverse?

  11. By hobsonschoice1 on Feb 21, 2011 | Reply

    JAMISON: Keep rolling. You’ve got to run Cincy’s Thanksgiving 10K. Starts and ends at PBS. Tremendous event. I had my skein of 18 straight snapped last year when we went to Jersey.

    WINDY: If no CBA, you can only trade picks. No players. It would be a nice year to trade down. Get one of those DEs and a QB OR WR OR CB.

  12. By jamison007 on Feb 22, 2011 | Reply

    There you go 2ndboot – Geoff has just helped me find a new goal for this year. This is what us Cincy fans have to really love about the Bengal organization, it is like being part of a big family. Geoff, I really appreciate your encouragement to run Cincy’s Thanksgiving 10k. I may end up being the turkey by the end of it, but now it is a mission. Fellow fans of Bengaldoom, it is time to stop letting dissapointment drive us into a funk. We need to put our game face on this offseason and be proud of the team that has been built around Carson…it is way better than what the trash talkers are saying, again. But that’s ok, shhhh…next year they’ll be saying, “who dey?”!

  13. By mwindle1973 on Feb 23, 2011 | Reply

    Jamison007: Now this is what I want to hear. I don’t care if your the most abject failure on the face of the earth. If you ever want to win or be successful it starts with saying it. IMO every organization should have a stated goal of winning a championship. Our’s should as well. I heard Marvin mumble those words during his contract extension PC. Brown alluded to it. I understand it’s laughable to the rest of the league. But the organization should routinely publicly state to it’s fans that it’s one and only goal is to win a championship. The fanbase has to embrace this too, regardless of results. Obviously as many years as we sold out the fanbase must be loyal. But I think the cynical, destruction driven element has too loud a voice. And they drown out loyal fans who refues to remain a fan and be a pessimist. I believe we were close last year. Yes the results don’t jive. But if you look closely we had the toughest schedule in the league at.598. No playoff team finished higher than 9th on that list and that would be the Packers. And obviously some things went awry early on and we couldn’t recover quick enough. But the team played hard until the last snap.

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