If it is April, it means it is Draft time in the NFL. For the uninitiated, each year the 32 NFL teams get to pick from the cream of the nation’s college footballers over the course of a long and at times tedious weekend in April. They then commit themselves to paying vast sums of money to young men who might never be good enough to play in the NFL. Let’s face it, when you have a 7 month close season, you have to keep people interested somehow.
You’d be wrong to think that this one weekend was the be all and end all of it. Oh no. Draft season began just three weeks after the Superbowl, with the Scouting Combine. You’ve seen those films of army conscripts doing physical exercises back in the 1950s? Believe me, it lives on at the Combine.
Up to 350 of potential Draftees are invited to work out in front of NFL scouts, coaches, managers, owners, journalists and anyone else who takes a prurient interest in sweaty young men. They are timed over a 40-yard run, perform bench presses and standing jumps and then display the skills relevant to their particular position. And they do interview after interview after interview.
The Combine itself rarely resolves anything. It comes right at the end of the college season, so some of the top players will have minor injuries, some will decide to only do part of the event and save themselves for March’s stage of the circus (see below) and some will perform so far above or below expectations that those watching them will be confused rather than enlightened. It might serve to weed out the terminally dim ones – such as the player this year who had to skip virtually everything because he’d had laser eye surgery too soon before the event – but that is about it.
After the rampant homoeroticism of the Combine, the next stage is the College work out. This is when those players attracting enough interest hold a day at their own college to show off their talents, working with their regular teammates. This is probably the best chance some of the students, particularly the quarterbacks, will get to show what they can do. At least one quarterback shot up the rankings this year as a result of his college day.
Finally, a select few, those who are likely to go in the first ten or so picks come Draft day, will have been invited to try out for various teams behind closed doors. Which is the closest that the whole crazy circus gets to anything which happens in the UK version of the game.
Next time, I’ll explain how the Draft works and maybe even name some names.
In other news, the Patriots shocked everyone by apologising for Spygate. Or, at least, apologising for bringing it upon the heads of the NFL. They didn’t, of course, admit to doing anything very wrong. In fact, whilst owner Robert Kraft threw himself at the mercy of his fellow owners, Bill Belichick was still claiming it was simply a case of him misinterpreting the rules. Which makes Bill Clinton’s denials sound positively believable.
This all happened at the NFL’s annual owners and coaches meeting. Also on the table was a proposal by the Kansas City Chiefs to ban players from having hair so long that it obscured the name and number on their jersey.
This got put off for a decision at another meeting next month, by which time someone will hopefully have taken a grip of themselves and realised what a trivial, pointless thing this is to get worked up over.
In three decades of watching this sport I have yet to see a player injured by an opponent’s hair. I have, on the other hand, seen plenty get flattened by the likes of Troy Polamalu. Personally, I reckon that the flying barnet must make him more visible. Why anyone would want to change that is beyond me.