In Which Allen Iverson Explains The NFL Scouting Combine To Tom Friedman
Let’s imagine Tom Friedman is in an Indianapolis taxi driving to Lucas Oil Stadium for the NFL Scouting Combine. Tom Friedman asks the cab driver what he thinks about the NFL Scouting Combine because that would be a most Tom Friedman thing to do. For the sake of our thought experiment, in which we imagine Tom Friedman is riding in a cab to the NFL Scouting Combine, let’s also pretend the cab driver is former NBA point guard Allen Iverson because this convoluted exercise really only works if Allen Iverson is driving the cab.
What does this pretend Allen Iverson say to our imaginary Thomas Friedman about the NFL Scouting Combine?
“I mean, listen, we’re talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice. Not a game. Not, not … Not the game, but we’re talking about practice, man. I mean, how silly is that? … And we talking about practice.”
At this point imaginary Tom Friedman would scribble a column about how Iverson, once a sportsball great, has been tragically reduced to driving a cab because Iverson failed to recognize that in this-world-is-flat…err…world it is not enough for sportsballers to simply play sportsball at a high level because Tom Friedman’s daughter’s one friend told him about Yale’s women’s lacrosse team or something. It’s shifted the paradigm. Sportsball must monetize practice. That’s why Roger Goodell boldly decided to leverage the NFL’s brand to create a Combine that’s both a scouting exercise and a new revenue opportunity in the increasingly globalized sportsball marketplace, which will save Mumbai because Tom Friedman. If only pretend Allen Iverson could understand, then he wouldn’t have to talk to imaginary Tom Friedman while driving an Indianapolis cab in this implausible scenario we just made up.
All of which is to say, the NFL Combine is the kind of perfectly stupid thing that not only can be summed up by Iverson’s legendary “we talking about practice” rant. It’s also something the sporting media takes as seriously as the league even though the Combine drills are largely useless.
Right now in Indianapolis, NFL scouts are busy poking and prodding and timing prospects in the hopes of finding just the right guys to lead their team to a Super Bowl while still earning rookie contract money. Once they become free agents, their salaries will be untenable under the salary cap. The problem is, both empirical and anecdotal evidence says the Combine isn’t a helpful way to evaluate talent. Jerry Rice had a terrible time in the 40 yard dash. By Combine standards, he should’ve been a terrible pro receiver.
For fans, the only way this can be even remotely interesting to you is if you are degenerate gambler who bets on Colorado State’s Kapri Bibbs’ performance in the standing long jump. Yet, the NFL Network is broadcasting this process by which grown men are weighed, measured, and made to run short distances. Writers from across the county are covering this stupid combine. ESPN built a cozy living room-like set inside Lucas Oil Stadium so their talent can chat on-air about 20-yard shuttle performances. And if you question any of these people about why they are covering this practice like it is a big deal, you’ll get an answer no less convoluted than the above parody of Tom Friedman.
We all understand the knock on the combine as these drills inside Lucas Oil Stadium don’t always translate to the field. And you don’t play the game in shorts or run a timed 40-yard dash on Sundays. That’s the difference between “stopwatch speed” and “game speed.”
But we also have to look deeper into this event to find it’s true meaning—or purpose—in the draft process.
The NFL Combine is an existential riddle wrapped in a mystery of meaning and placed in the purpose box!
Even worse, the NFL is now peddling official Combine gear. Since none of these players have been drafted and therefore aren’t currently playing for your favorite team, Combine gear looks a lot like generic Under Armour workout stuff you can buy anywhere. Except Combine gear costs more.
Consider the Official NFL Scouting Combine Coreshorts, retailing for $59.95 at NFL.com. They look like regular boxer briefs, but just like the (would-be) pros wear! You’d really be able to feel the burn wearing them
at the gym to Hooters, for wings. Of course, you can also buy basically the same “coreshorts” elsewhere for $35. Or regular Under Armour boxer briefs for $17.50/each. But someone will pay the mark-up for Combine Coreshorts because someone else wore similar underwear, as Iverson foretold, in “practice…not a game, not game…but practice.”
That’s a lesson, sportsball fans. The people who run sportsball think we are idiots who will even overpay for underwear just because they put the logo of their dumbest event on it.