22 Feb 2007
My colleagues Aaron Schatz and Doug Farrar are in Indy right now, and they'll be filing regular Combine reports for FOX this week. They are sure to be informative and interesting columns.
I was left behind. I have teaching responsibilities and a baby in the house, so it's hard for me to travel this time of year. Anyway, someone has to keep an eye on the Football Outsiders mainframe and make sure that the interns aren't stealing all the office supplies.
But just because I'm not in Indianapolis watching college kids running around in shorts doesn't mean I'm bitter. I can still provide in-depth Combine coverage from the comfort of my own desk. I just have to draw upon my five years of experience in sports journalism. Yeah, that's the ticket. Aaron and Doug may be able to do actual interviews, but they can't match my feverish imagination. After all, what's Combine coverage really all about?
1) Boilerplate General Manager Interviews
Heck, I don't have to be at a press conference to hear some team exec spout the party line. I can just write an outline and fill in the relevant names later:
Me: So, what do you guys think of Adrian Peterson?
General Manager X: Peterson's a heck of a player. We're happy with the running backs we have, but Peterson would obviously be a great fit on any team. We're going to pursue all of our options.
Me: Any truth to the rumors that you may trade up or down?
GMX: We will listen to all offers. We have some feelers out. Obviously, if the phone rings on draft day, we'll answer it. We're going to pursue all of our options.
Me: Are you going to sign any of your free agents?
GMX: We would like to keep all of those guys, but there are cap constraints. We plan to be active in free agency. We're going to pursue all of our options.
Heck, cut 'n' paste that 31 times and I have a whole article!
2) Boilerplate Prospect Interviews
These are even better than GM interviews. At least execs are articulate when they stonewall you.
Me: You showed up 60 pounds overweight, tripped during your 40-yard dash, and ate the Wonderlic pencil by mistake. Are you disappointed by your Combine experience?
Prospect X: Yeah, but I worked out. I showed I got nothin' to hide. I'll put on a show at Pro Day. And scouts see the tape, so they know what Prospect X brings to the field.
Me: You fielded a lot of questions about the 2005 incident in which you took 1,500 chewable aspirin tablets and crashed a blimp into a Trappist monestary. Do you think you convinced coaches that you've put that part of your life behind you?
Prospect X: I made some mistakes. But I've grown up. I put my faith in my parents and God and my coaches. That incident wasn't what Prospect X is about. I'll prove the haters wrong on the field.
Yeah, this is easy. What else am I missing?
3) Scout Banter
Now this is my forte. I don't have to be in Indy to sling the scout speak. Mr. Sulu, set phasers to "gibberish."
Interviewer: Tanier, you're a master draftnik. What makes Calvin Johnson so special?
Me: Johnson has great initial quicks and great ups, an extra gear in the open field and the ability to dial it down in and out of his breaks. He has a high motor but a low carburetor and an above average catalytic converter. He can run the smash route, the go route, the dig route, the skinny post, the voluptuous post, the pre-post, the post-post, and the Texas clown jet smoke samba route. And he looks the part.
There's no way to network with my fellow professionals while I'm stuck here in the office, but that's not such a big deal. After all, most interactions with other sportswriters go something like this:
Me: Hey, Mike Tanier of Football Outsiders and FOXSports.com. Pleased to meet you.
Other Writer: Bubba Jones, Frog Creek Courier-Bugle-Times. Charmed.
Me: Who's on the podium next? Bill Polian? A.J. Smith?
Other Writer: Dunno. Lost track two hours ago.
Me: I see … so, is there any place to get a decent drink around here?
Other Writer: There's a flask of Early Times in my breast pocket.
Me: I must not have made myself clear. I was looking for a decent drink.
Other Writer: Like it or lump it, Jersey Boy.
(I take flask, gulp, and sigh)
Not exactly the stuff of career advancement.
5) Hot Tips
One thing I am surely missing here in my cubicle is the Deep Throat moment: the clandestine parking garage meeting with some team functionary at which I learn that the Vikings plan to trade up to get Calvin Johnson or the Raiders are offering Randy Moss for a ball of yarn and some belly button lint. Of course, I'm a scout/statistician/historian, not a tidbit guy, and if we were purveyors of hot insider info, we wouldn't be called the Football Outsiders.
But in the blog-o-sphere, no one can tell the difference between a rumor lifted directly from Jerry Jones' cocktail napkin and some stuff some sportswriter made up while feeding his seven-month old. Therefore, all I need to do is prefabricate some credible info and imply that it came from a confidential source:
- A source in New Orleans said that the Saints are very high on Adalius Thomas and will bid heavily on him at the start of free agency (the source in this case is a bartender in the Quarter).
- A source close to Bobby Petrino says that the Falcons coach really liked what he saw from Dwayne Jarrett (said source is Tommy Pestino, who is close to Petrino alphabetically).
- Arthur Blank spent a lot of time talking to free agent quarterback Aaron Brooks. Something about the plumbing section of a Home Depot in Oakland (okay, this is obviously just a stupid joke).
See? I can do the job, no plane ticket or hotel room necessary. Who needs a city filled with football power brokers or an atmosphere thick with rumors? Who needs the tension of a daily deadline or an agenda filled with press conferences and one-on-one interviews with future All Pros? Who needs long nights at the sports bar with other writers, talking football, swapping business cards and stories? Who really needs it? Who?
Aaron, please please please please bring me next year. Please? Please? Thanks boss!
Beyond the immediate considerations of Hundley's potential, the quarterback's tape raises larger questions about the position.