Men in Tights
Sorry, but I'm not a fan of the NFL Combine, aka "The Underwear Olympics."
Watching guys run, jump, lift, stretch and do other things that cause me physical pain by just watching them perform is not my idea of sport.
But I'll grant you this – some of what they can do while running around is impressive. It's why they're there, in Indianapolis this week, showing off skills for the hundreds of executives, coaches, scouts, physicians and reporters present.
Absolutely, the Combine is an event that the league should rightfully trumpet – after all, you do whatever you can to stay relevant in front of your audience, especially now that the off-season is in full swing. More than 300 potential NFL stars-in-waiting get their chance to impress when the starters' pistols go off, and stopwatches are snapped into action.
But take it all in with a grain of salt. Ever heard of 'workout wonders?' Over the past 20 years since the Combine became a 'thing' on the NFL calendar, we've had more than a few college athletes perform extraordinarily well while being timed, measured, poked and prodded – only to follow up rather poorly when it comes to actual football stuff.
Or do you not remember one of the highest-rated Combine guys ever, ex-LSU and Oakland QB JaMarcus Russell? He had one good year in college. He had no good years, really, in the NFL. A 7-18 record as a starter. But he was one of the highest-rated Combine guys in the history of the event.
Who remembers John McCargo going to Buffalo off a great Combine workout in 2006? Started one game in his career. Patriot fans, remember Barkevious Mingo? An 'okay' college player at LSU, he showed well at his Combine workouts, but hasn't (yet) proven he can be a full-time starter in the NFL.
Not for nuthin' here…but maybe watch out for any more Paper Tigers from LSU?
Looking impressive while running in a straight line is one thing, but what can you do over three or four seasons of grinding – running around, over and through people; hitting, gaining yards after contact, tackling – is a question that can't be answered during this time frame.
Oh, and don't forget the Wonderlic Test. It's a 12-minute assessment of 50 questions, designed to see how these athletes react to questions of various difficulty, posed in a rather short period of time. Some execs undoubtedly believe a good test score can be indicative of future NFL success.
Jimmy Garoppolo scored a 29. J.J. Watt scored a 31. Ezekiel Elliott, a 32. Carson Wentz, a 40. Tom Brady, 33. Drew Brees, 28. Larry Fitzgerald, 18. Eli Manning, 39. Leonard Fournette, 11. Khalil Mack and Le'Veon Bell, 17. Todd Gurley, 12. Frank Gore, 6. Ryan Fitzpatrick – 48. Randy Moss, a 12.
Is there a pattern here? Doesn't appear to be a cut-and-dried mold for success, does it?
So have fun watching. Go and find your future superstars. Undoubtedly, the NFL Network will get strong ratings from football nerds that simply need a pigskin fix, and this is their only way to get it right now – save for the American Alliance of Football this spring.
Me? I'll wait until pads start popping this summer to find the diamonds-in-the-rough. You know, actual football pads? Men running around in tights doesn't tell me much, except that I need to keep going to the gym.
One of the Good Guys
If you follow New England sports outside of just watching the Patriots, you may already know that one of the regions' best (and the of the country's best) sports writers, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, tragically passed away this past week while covering the Red Sox in Fort Myers, Florida.
Nick was also on the football beat for the Globe covering the Patriots in the '90's and into the early 2000's, before moving back to baseball. It's where we first became friendly, largely through chatting on long walks from the practice fields to the dining hall at Bryant University (then Bryant College) where the Patriots' held training camp during the summer.
That he would have an interest in me and what I was doing, was one thing. To give me advice, unsolicited, was something I cherished as I greatly respected his reporting skills. He had heard me 'do my thing' at the stadium and on local radio stations in Boston and Providence and told me he listened often when I was on the air. He had also been a frequent guest on many of those programs.
In 2000, Nick pulled me aside one late summers' day in Smithfield, Rhode Island while watching practice, and asked if I had heard what the Patriots were getting ready to do with their then-fledgling website, Patriots.com. They were getting ready to stream audio and air "live" talk shows, without the benefit of having a radio station to broadcast them. Novel idea, back in 2000.
It was cutting-edge, of course. That's part of the Patriot Way. But Nick had heard about the plans and told me he thought I'd be perfect for some kind of role, seeing as radio neophytes (the Patriots at the time) could probably use radio professionals to help 'legitimize' things. His word, not mine.
Nearly 20 years later, I'm still very much involved with Patriots.com radio, in "live" and podcast form, which has turned out to be a magnificent way to reach out and inform (and entertain, as well) thousands of fans each week throughout the season – and now into the off-season.
I don't know if I ever properly thanked him for the kind gesture, and the solid tip in adding to my personal, professional portfolio. But I've never forgotten that day, as it has led to furthering a wonderful relationship with this organization, and with many fans and listeners.
Thank you, Nick. You were class, personified. A true media professional. As nice as the day is long.
And a friend, who will be missed by many.
John Rooke, an author and award-winning broadcaster, has concluded his 26thseason as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for more than 30 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio & Television Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.