NFL combine a must-see

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:20 AM ET

So, the call comes from the boss.

Youre going to the NFL Scouting Combine. I know youre a basketball writer but for various reasons I cant send anyone else. Do some research and get ready.

That was about two weeks ago. Now, having combed the internet and called on anyone I could think of with a hint of an interest in U.S. college football, I dont feel completely out of my element ... but its close.

Truth be told, my first reaction when the boss dropped this on me was: Really? Do people care that much about it that we would spend four days in Indianapolis in the middle of basketball season?

That internet research quickly answered the question.

Not only is the NFL combine popular among NFL fans, its one of the must-see events on the sports calendar.

Now, even a basketball hick like myself was aware of the astronomical numbers the NFL gets on a weekly basis, although I admit I was surprised to learn that 162 million tuned into this years Super Bowl. I was even more surprised to learn that all 20 of the top 20 most-watched television shows in the history of TV are Super Bowls.

But a Scouting Combine? Watching a bunch of soon-to-be-millionaires running 40 yard dashes or measuring their verticle jumps just seemed a stretch to have any staying power even with an NFL crazy audience.

Turns out I couldnt have been more wrong.

NFL Network, which televises the scouting combine, drew 5.2 million viewers to last years event according to a Miami Herald story penned by Barry Jackson. Jackson points out those are better numbers than Major League Baseball gets on ESPN, which is in 43 million more homes than the NFL Network.

Who knew?

The NFL Scouting Combine began in 1982 in Tampa. The goal then, and it remains the goal today, was to acquire medical information on the top prospects in college football. The first one drew 163 players. This years will include more than 300.

By 1985, all 28 NFL teams were on board with the concept and shared the medical costs for the exams. The combine had a couple of different venues stopping in New Orleans and Arizona before moving permanently to Indianapolis where it has been run every year since 1987.

Over the years, psychological testing and an extensive interview process have been added to the combine schedule resulting in what the league now calls the ultimate four-day job interview for draft-eligible college football players.

Careers can be made at the scouting combine, just as a poor performance can ruin a players chances of ever playing in the NFL.

But the Combine results dont necessarily predict good or even bad things ahead.

Jerry Rice was considered a scouting-combine bust based on a poor 40-yard dash time. Hes now in the Hall of Fame and considered the greatest receiver to ever play the game.

Others, such as The Workout Wonder, defensive end Mike Mamula in 1995, and, more recently, now free agent wide receiver Matt Jones in 05, dazzled at the combine but came up well short of expectations on the NFL gridiron.

It can go either way and that kind of drama has made it must-see TV for the NFL hoardes out there.

So, yeah, boss, I can see why were going.

mike.ganter@sunmedia.ca


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