Many, many years ago -- when I was a cub reporter at Sports Illustrated -- I spent a week covering the combine. This was the year Jonathan Ogden came out of UCLA and everyone was convinced he was a sure thing. They were right. But just as many people were sure that Jamain Stephens of North Carolina A&T was the sleeper in the draft. The Steelers picked him in the first round in 1996 -- and then cut him on the first day of camp three years later, when he passed out after running the 40.I was the lackey sent to fill in for Peter King, who had another assignment that week. He was upset he couldn't go, telling me, "It's one of the few places you can get really close to coaches and GMs and have them whisper secrets in your ear."
This should tell you so much about how the combine has changed. For one, these days Peter would give up Starbucks before he'd give up a week at the combine. And two, it's no longer one of those secret spots that only a select few in the NFL media know about. Back then, I was struck by the expectant feeling of the whole week. Reporters milled around a hotel lobby, mingling with agents, waiting for players to come out to talk about what they were asked and for coaches to praise the players who just talked about what they were asked. Now, I'll just watch the whole thing on TV or read the blog posts coming in from every NFL city.
I love all this stuff, by the way. The more the better. The beauty of the increased importance of the combine, and the genius of the NFL in selling it, is that now everyone is an expert in why cone drills matter and how important bench-press reps are. That also means everyone has their own perspective, too.