Editor’s Note: The 2016 NFL Draft begins tomorrow at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. In honor of this momentous occasion, we thought we’d take a fresh look at a piece published last year, when we sent Made Man writer at large Shawn Donnelly to Indianapolis to try his hands (and feet) at the NFL Combine. Read on to see how Donnelly performed—and what he gleaned from his
exciting educational weekend in Indiana.
Every year in May, the fastest cars in the world assemble in Indianapolis to race in the Indianapolis 500. And every year in February, the fastest college football players in the world assemble in Indianapolis to run at the NFL Scouting Combine.
I am not one of the fastest college football players in the world. Hell, I didn’t even play high school football. I am a 37-year-old writer from Brooklyn with thinning hair and tight hamstrings.
But somehow I found myself on the artificial turf inside Indy’s Lucas Oil Stadium last week, wearing gold football cleats and bright orange skintight clothing from Under Armour, sprinting 40 yards down a sideline equipped with lasers. It was a fun experience. You should try it sometime. It also gave me a chance to see what this whole NFL Combine—the annual mega-event where NFL-eligible college players are measured to see how well they can run, jump, lift and think—is all about. Here are my findings.
“If you’re a fan of middle-aged men in NFL team windbreakers, this is the place for you. Suffice to say, any waitress or female front desk person is an extremely welcome sight.”
1. There Are a Lot of Dudes
At the NFL Combine, there are dudes as far as the eye can see. In every direction. In every elevator, every hallway, every restaurant. Dudes, dudes, dudes. ESPN reporter Sal Palantonio calls this thing an NFL convention, the place where the season starts. You could also call it a Midwest sausage fest. There are over 1,000 members of the media and 1,500 NFL team personnel at the Combine, and I would conservatively estimate that over 90 percent of them have penises. If you’re a fan of middle-aged men in NFL team windbreakers, this is the place for you. Suffice to say, any waitress or female front desk person becomes an extremely welcome sight.
2. St. Elmo Grills a Great Steak
If you’re ever in Indianapolis, hit up St. Elmo Steak House. They’re serious about their beef. It hits your table crispy on the outside and red in the middle. Nice and fatty and delicious. Great shrimp cocktails too. Their horseradish sauce puts Arby’s to shame.
3. Indianapolis Deserves Its Nickname of “Naptown”
The NFL Combine is one of Indy’s biggest, busiest weeks of the year. And yet, at 9 p.m. last Wednesday at a perfectly fine Japanese restaurant near Lucas Oil Stadium, the place was essentially empty. I was eating with 10 or so other people—all guys, of course—in a room with approximately 60 seats, and we were the only table that was occupied. Which brings me to a related point…
4. Club Rio Is Slow on Wednesday Nights
So OK, later that same night, a few other writers and I decided to make a late move to a gentleman’s establishment called Club Rio. (Can you blame us? See finding No. 1.) We arrived by cab at around 2 a.m. to an empty parking lot. We go in, there’s a bouncer, a bartender, a DJ/announcer, two hard-working dancers… and no other customers. And this was supposed to be the most bustling of the city’s gentleman’s clubs. The women were friendly, but you could tell they were pretty much ready to wrap up and head home by the time we got there. Then there was this weird moment when we were waiting for Uber to pick us up, and the women couldn’t leave until we left—some kind of safety policy so that we wouldn’t follow them home—so we were all just sitting around a dark strip club at 2:30, with the dancers fully dressed and in their winter coats. Vivid Cabaret, this was not.
Like we said, Club Rio wasn’t too crowded. Oh wait…
5. Lucas Oil Stadium Is Big
It doesn’t just dominate the Indianapolis skyline. It pretty much is the skyline. Inside the place feels cavernous. Walking on the turf, you realize how great it must feel to score a touchdown when it’s full of people. It must be nice to be Andrew Luck.
6. The Hotel Bar Is Fun
I was staying at the Omni Severin. A few other writers and I spent an evening at the Severin’s bar drinking and playing pool. It was like NFL Primetime: The Bar. At one point here were all of the NFL people there: Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, Colts backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, NFL Network’s Michael Silver and Melissa Stark, NFL Players Association director DeMaurice Smith, Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman and NFL Players Association president Eric Winston, super agent Jimmy Sexton and about half of the Cleveland Browns coaching staff. And these were just the people I or another writer recognized. Which leads me to these three quick observations…
7. Eric Winston Is a Very Large Man
Guy was born to be an offensive lineman. Tall, wide. Just a massive person.
8. DeMaurice Smith Is Not
Guy was born to represent bigger, more athletic men. He’s not Kevin Hart small, but he’s close.
9. Melissa Stark Is Pretty
She’s easily as good-looking in person as she is on TV. Maybe better. Also taller than you might think. Very fit.
10. Matt Hasselbeck Sucks at Pool
These aren’t my words, they’re his. I asked him if he and Witten wanted to play me and another writer in a game. He said, “No, I suck at pool.” Then he said something about how he lost his first girlfriend because of it. I’m not sure how that would work. Was there an Almost Famous-style bet that involved women? “Win this game of pool and you get my girlfriend, lose and I get your girlfriend”? I don’t know. Maybe I misheard him. I’d had a few whiskeys by that point.
Patrick Peterson rocks the Speedform MC. Then again, he could outrun most guys wearing banana slippers.
11. Under Armour Makes a Comfortable Running Shoe
Full disclosure: I was at the Combine courtesy of Under Armour. They invited a few writers to Indy to try out their new football cleat, the Speedform MC. So like the members of some kind of football fantasy camp, we actually got to suit up in Combine gear, get warmed up by Arizona Cardinals All-Pro defensive back Patrick Peterson and then try our feet at the 40. It must’ve set a record for the nicest gear on the shittiest group of athletes. That ratio was off the charts. It felt a little silly for us to be in shoes and clothes that official, considering how unofficial our athleticism was.
Anyway, the cleat felt great—really gripped the Lucas Oil Stadium turf. (Which, by the way, is extremely soft. And doesn’t actually have much “grass” on it. You’re basically running on a rubber patch.) If you play football, you should definitely consider their cleat. It’s supposed to help prevent turf toe and it looks cool too—all shiny and gold, with little indentations for each of your toes. But I was actually more impressed with another pair of shoes they gave us, the Speedform Gemini running shoes. They’re constructed using the same principles used to design bras, and they feel almost as nice on your feet as your hands do when you’re touching a bra. They’re super soft and comfortable. They feel like a cloud version of John Legend’s voice. Or maybe a cloud version of Chrissy Teigen’s body. At any rate, I’m hoping they continue to feel this way.
12. The Combine Outfits Are Snug
You’ll never feel fatter than when you wear the gear that the Combine athletes wear. That stuff is TIGHT. No love handle goes unnoticed. It’s definitely meant to be worn when you’re 21 or 22… not 37. Thankfully, the Under Armour folks gave us shorts and baggier shirts to wear over this stuff. Otherwise I might’ve hid in my bathroom all day, curled up in the fetal position, crying and swearing off late-night carbs.
13. The 40 Is Longer Than You Think
Running the actual 40, I’d say I did all right. I got to run it twice. Now, I don’t want to criticize Peterson too hard, but his warm-up wasn’t what I would call thorough. Or at least, my stiff, jet-lagged leg muscles and I could’ve used more activity. So I went into my first run a little concerned about the sustainability of my hamstrings. It probably didn’t help that in the weeks leading up to my Combine outing, everyone warned me not to pull a hamstring. Reminded me of everyone telling the kid in A Christmas Story that if he got a Red Ryder BB gun, “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
All of which is to say, I wasn’t very quick out of the blocks. Because I didn’t want to dig too hard and pull my hamstring. And there was a point during the middle of it when I thought, “Wow, this is taking a while.” (On TV it seems to be over in the blink of an eye. I now realize this is because it is over a lot faster when elite college athletes run it. Also, things go by faster when you’re not the one personally struggling through them.) Then, after I finished my first 40, I felt a twinge in my left hamstring. I knew this would only get worse. I tried stretching out the hammy, but sure enough, about 10 yards into my second 40, I felt it pull. It wasn’t a Jozy Altidore in the World Cup-level hamstring snap, but it was enough of a strain that I knew I had to shut it down.
My first 40 was timed at anywhere from 5.35 to 5.48. One guy said he timed me at 4.9. (I really, really like that guy.) But the time they posted on the scoreboard was 5.48. I think that’s what the lasers had. I guess they are probably pretty accurate at measuring things.
Scoreboard don’t lie…
I finished third among the seven writers. And apparently I finished only a half-second behind Jameis Winston, who ran a 4.97. And I finished only two-tenths of a second behind Tom Brady, who ran a 5.28 coming out of Michigan in 2000. So… I’m fine with that time. Now I just have to regroup, rehab my hamstring and get ready for my pro day.