So you got the newsy version of the combine, but here's the real scoop.
The combine is all about money; from top to bottom.
When players are asked about a recent injury they pounce on their rehearsed lines. This is the one way that the media can actually eff with a player's money. You will hear cliches like: one hundred percent, ready to go, not a problem—this is the stuff attached to questions about injuries. Ask them what scouts are looking for from a technical aspect and they'll say speed or footwork. I want to press them.
"Yes, but what kind of footwork? Backpedaling, driving forward? Can you be more specific?"
The players have been drilled by handfuls of teams about their football smarts all day, and the last thing they wanna do is go over some chalkboard stuff with me at a press conference. Plus, unusual, pressing questions scare the typical athlete and they retract. To some degree, you have to go with the flow because you're going to be there the next three days. Weird these people out on day one and you will suffer a significant career drawback. The key is playing it straight for a while and wait for everyone else get to weird on their own. Three days at a Combine will do it for sure. Then start asking people some really bizarre shit.
"Will rookies in 2011 have to get regular jobs if there is no draft? What team would you remove from the NFL if you could? How do you feel about public transportation?"
The general managers will drop some nuggets, but they are experts at treading between sounding smart and being secretive. Every word they speak in this forum either makes or costs them money. Slip up and share too much information, and the other teams and player agents will use that info to exploit the now publicly vulnerable team. Put pressure on veterans through the media—like Jeff Ireland did to Joey Porter and Kevin Colbert did to Willie Parker today—and it makes it easier for the fans to digest once that player is gone.
Then there is the media themselves. The NFL Network has it's own elevated stage in the center of the room that takes up an obnoxious amount of unnecessary space. The real kicker is: it's for only Jason LaConfora. The rest of the crew is inside what Rich Eisen has coined "the inner sanctum". The rest of us scum have to swim around the place brandishing our recorders and cameras and notebooks and complete whole sentences aloud even though it is clear someone else had begun their sentence first. It's an orgy of coverage, that for many of these people, is the only way they get their money.
That would be okay if we were really trying to outsmart one another, but a whole gaggle of professionals laugh when a reporter asks an athlete what is the strangest question they've had so far and the guy replies "what is my favorite color?" That happened.
The media make there money the fastest though. The pattern is this: The media arrive. They quickly consume all the coffee and bagels sat out for them. They spend 20 minutes cramming. They surround famous people and go through the motions with them, then they run back to their laptop and slop up some updates and call it a blog. It's active, but not exceptionally enthralling.
Still, the experience is priceless. If you're trying to make it as a football writer or are expected to be drafted by an NFL team—both of which I qualify for—you have to be there.
Mojokong—always bring a muffin.