*NOTE: Here's a blog I did back in Feb on my experience at the NFL Combine. It was originally posted on www.acsportstalk.com on Feb 25 and was never transferred over to my site.
NFL Combine. What's the first thing that came to mind? Was it the big name prospects? How about the 40-yard dash? Or perhaps experts talking about the draft?
But beneath the surface there’s so much more that the NFL Network and 900 media personnel on hand don’t show the public.
So much for 'all-access.'
So what does the scene really look like at the Combine that the public doesn’t see? The best way to describe it is a chaotic-zoo. From the hotel with prospects to the stadium with media, there’s always something going on and people are running around like chickens with their heads cutoff.
At the Omni, players are constantly in-and-out and have more gifts in their hands than a seven-year old on Christmas. With Lucas Oil Stadium only several blocks away, most players choose to walk over to the venue, as fans desperately attempt to snag an autograph, in hopes of getting the next NFL superstar to sign whatever they can.
California TE and Worcester native Richard Rodgers talks with me in lobby about how the week’s going so far. But like a college student talking to a buddy as he heads to class, there’s no time to stop, as Rodgers heads over for a meeting at the stadium.
With prospects arriving based on position, some have slower schedules than others. Missouri linebacker Michael Sam gathers in the lobby to share some laughs and interact with his agent and other prospects, knowing the days to follow will be strictly business.
Not all players are as open in the public. NFL Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk tries to stay under the radar and does his best to blend-in with the crowd. But Colts’ coach Chuck Pagano takes the time to pose for pictures and chat with numerous people as he makes his way to the elevator.
At the stadium, things are even more hectic. Walking through the North Gate and overlooking the field from the North end zone, a stadium that holds 67,000 is nearly empty. Players toss a football around and work on positional drills as they prepare for field work to begin.
Just around the corner, the East Gate is swamped by the media. Cameras, chairs and sets from numerous radio and television shows a line next to each other, with other reporters and cameramen scattered in between from wall-to-wall.
As the week goes on, more players arrive and the chaos increases. Mid-day at the hotel on Saturday, the hotel lobby is packed. While Johnny Manziel mingles in the lobby, other prospects interact with each other on the Mezzanine (second floor of the Omni) enjoying some coconut water and staying off their feet.
While the action in the front of the hotel is busy, the back is more peaceful. Sit down interviews by Eastbay with prospects are laid-back and casual. Players aren’t obligated to do interviews with them, but getting any good publicity doesn’t hurt – especially for the sleepers in the draft.
With the Omni connected to other parts of downtown Indianapolis through its skywalk, the action at one hotel is much different. There’s no large gatherings or even many people seen mingling. Rather tucked away around the corner, players are working on their 40-yard dashes with nothing but compression shorts on.
Only feet away around the corner of the hotel is a pop-up practice bag and cones, as players are training non-stop even when they’re away from the stadium. Every rep is crucial, as a tenth of a second can make the difference of making or losing thousands of dollars.
At night, while players get rest, some coaches enjoy getting a bite to eat downtown. With UFC 170 taking place Saturday night, Rex Ryan (New York Jets), Rob Ryan (New Orleans) and John Fox (Denver), enjoy some wings and drinks at Hooters. Jay Glazer, from Fox Sports, joins the three and their wives, before the Ryan brothers call it a night and head back to their hotels.
The sun comes up and the process repeats itself day-after-day until Tuesday. By trying to cover 355 NFL prospects, 32 head coaches and other front office members of organizations, it's nearly impossible for the media to show fans what goes on every minute at the Combine. As my trip ends early and I head back to Massachusetts for school, I think back to the week. All I can form is, 'wow.'
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