You can see it on the NFL Network beginning Saturday. The interview sessions begin today. Media will clog the hotels and ballrooms and various parts of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, the latest step in the run to the draft (and also an important scene for pre-negotiations by agents with clubs over pending free agents, all hush-hush). You’ll be able to watch the drills, see how they are conducted, collect times in the 40-yard dash and the three-cone drill (where I live now, it would more likely be a three-Cohen drill), keep your own little draft notebook. The funny thing about all of this openness is that the combine once operated in an air of secrecy. Information was expensive and closely guarded by the clubs. Some team scouts were accused of selling the master report — the collection of data on all of the invited players — to reporters. Some copies were bugged, with inserted mistakes so that the leaker could be invited. Securing a copy was cloak-and-dagger stuff. Media attendance was discouraged; now the media are credentialed. It is, of course, the right thing for the NFL. Everything about it is a product, and every product should be marketed and sold. The combine will probably get better TV ratings than some college basketball games, and it’s not really a competition. But it is a look behind the curtain, and fans enjoy that new closeness. Many teams say that nothing at the combine changes their draft board, but they do use the opportunity to interview the players, get the updated medical reports, and eat too much at St. Elmo’s steakhouse. It’s not a big year for quarterbacks, so some of the draft’s sex appeal just isn’t there. This one looks best for offensive linemen, especially tackles, and who even knows their names? Even so, fans love the draft and the intrigue that follows the opening of the free-agent period. So let’s get on with it. I want to know everyone’s arm length, number of bench-press reps, and I want to hear the rumors about teams moving up, teams moving down, and teams that won’t talk about either. It’s the closest we can get to football right now.
I was there when the NFL and the NFL Players Association approved the concept of a salary cap. At least I was covering those meetings for USA TODAY. I wasn’t a fly on the wall. But I was there when the NFL and the players ended a bitter labor dispute that started in 1987 and carried over into 1993. So I am endlessly amused now, some 10 years, a couple of labor-agreement extensions and a lockout later (in 2011), to find that NFL teams are facing cap issues in 2013. You would have to be in the Moron Club for this to happen. But remember the NFL approved the contracts the Redskins and Cowboys did going into 2011 to take advantage of the uncapped year, while penalizing them later. The league docked the Redskins a boatload of cap dollars ($32 million over two years) and the Cowboys a schooner-load, for following the rules and not collaborating in true antitrust style with the other 30 teams. How that has avoided nuking by the courts only speaks to a judiciary prejudiced to the right. Anyway, the New Orleans Saints are $21 million over the of about $121 million for 2013. The New York Jets are over, the Giants are tight, and other teams are suffering as well. The Green Bay Packers cut Charles Woodson. The Giants dumped Ahmad Bradshaw. These are not football moves. These are moves to teams motivated to save their financial bacon. Football is not the sport. Managing the cap is the sport. Football is the business (see North Dallas 40 for detailed reference).
Very sorry to hear of the passing of former New York City Mayor Ed Koch. A unique, unusual character who managed to irritate his friends and allies as well as his enemies. I lived and worked in the New York area during some his lengthy stay as mayor (the New York Daily News always referred to him as Hizzoner). Everyone who enjoyed the vibrant and crazed Manhattan of Koch’s day has a favorite story about him and mine, of course, involves sports. My memory fails me on which of the Super Bowls the Giants had won under Bill Parcells, so it was either after the ’86 season or the ’90 season. The Giants, of course, had left New York State (and New Haven, Ct.) for the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J., in 1976. Not so sure Koch knew whether a football contained air or Marshmallow Fluff but he knew how he felt about businesses leaving his town. So when the victorious Giants wanted a parade down the Canyon of Heroes in lower Manhattan, Koch said no. “Let them have their parade in Manookie,” Koch said, referring to a tiny industrial burg hard aside the Rutherfords. Except it wasn’t called Manookie. It was Moonachie (MOO-nock-ee). I know. I worked in a warehouse there one summer. As a proud son of Bergen County in New Jersey’s northeast corner, I made it my business to know how to pronounce the many names derived from their Native American roots (Ho-Ho-Kus anyone?) Moonachie had not only a funny name but a funny intersection — Moonachie Road crossed Moonachie Boulevard. The Giants held their parade in the parking lot of the stadium, electing not to follow Paterson Plank Road into Manookie. I believe they have since been welcomed by New York’s leaders when they win the Super Bowl, which they have, of course, done twice in the last five years. I liked the plain-spoken ways of Hizzoner and the years he devoted to Congress and the city. I could talk quite a bit about his political roots and Allard Lowenstein and the whole Movement but that would become a lecture. Do you want me to go on with my lecture? As Groucho Marx said, “I wish you’d go on without your lecture.” And so I go … to Manookie!