When, exactly, did the NFL stop playing football? Wasn't it roughly 14 hours ago? New Orleans, yeah? Superdome. Power outage. Harbaughs. Beyoncé. Since then there's been quite the arid, extended, agonizing off-season. What's it actually been? Twenty-one days? Twenty-two? A little more than the gestation period of a hamster. Long enough! Time to return to the field. Vacations are for shirkers. We are ready and hungry for the football. Bring the football. Football. We need it. Come on!
Phew, here it is: The NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, an annual, ultra-commodified ritual in which the league puts its incoming class through an elaborate, televised entrance exam. Players sprint, jump, catch, throw and furiously bench-press a 225-pound barbell until their upper body exhausts. There are drills. Catch this pass! Spin around! Now catch this one! It's all very sort of exciting, for the dead, empty cold of February. What the combine mostly proves—once again—is that the people will watch pretty much anything related to football, the nation's most important cultural pastime—after groaning about the Academy Awards.
The value of this combine is famously mixed. There is always the potential for a player's name to be lifted by a startling performance—Texas wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, who competed in the long jump at the 2012 Olympics, ran a blistering 4.27 in the 40 yard dash on Sunday. But there's a long list of NFL stars whose mediocre combine performances gave little evidence of their potential, including 2012 running back Alfred Morris, who was underwhelming in Indy, drafted 173rd, and wound up being the NFL's second-leading rusher as a rookie. On Sunday the NFL Network ran some comical footage of a wannabe quarterback wandering though a combine more than a decade ago. His 40 resembled a man crawling over the top of a cheesecake. But Tom Brady turned out to be pretty good.