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Sacco Sez: How the NFL Combine became bigger than ever


The NFL year is packed more tightly every year, starting from the end with the Super Bowl, which this year was played on Feb. 12.

A very respected national reporter told me recently that between the end of his Super Bowl coverage and the beginning of the NFL Combine, he barely had time to spend four days on a vacation with his family.

He was not complaining, mind you — just noting that what used to be a six-month season is now a 24/7/365 period in pro football. There is now the XFL and the USFL, and just about to begin is the annual NFL Scouting Combine.

The NFL Scouting Combine actually began as a much smaller event in 1982, when it was known as National Football Scouting Inc. Back then, it was held in Tampa, Florida, and the main reason for it was to check the medical condition of each invited prospect. It also was held in New Orleans and in Arizona before finding a permanent (at least so far) home in Indianapolis in 1987.

At that time, most teams would partner with either NFS, BLESTO or Quadra Scouting to collect medical info and measurements — heights, weights, 40-yard-dash times, etc. — at invitational camps, as opposed to each team organizing workouts on their own.

Eventually, the three organizations merged their events to share costs, forming one centralized Combine beginning in 1985.

At first there would be scouts and coaches from each team as well as trainers and some public relations people. There was just a smattering of key NFL media, but as things always go, the media people present required NFL PR people from New York, along with club personnel, to organize interviews and prevent the media from getting in the way.

And it got bigger and bigger, becoming an event far larger in scope than just checking the medical information on the top 330 or so invited prospects.

Once ESPN and the NFL Network got involved, it became national, with specific position-oriented drills and a number of other tests and evaluations, including the famous Wonderlic test, which is now no longer used.

Eventually, the combine got bigger and bigger, as did media interest, with regularly scheduled press briefings listed among the weekly events.

Now it is expected that each team's coach and general manager, along with many of the most highly regarded players, will have his own press session as part of the activities.

It is now a media delight and is attended and reported on as such. But the entire game has gotten bigger, and the value of draft choices has never been higher.

Thus, when a team is about to draft many of these players, it stands to reason that they would wish to know everything possible about each of these young men.

In my early years with the Broncos, my boss in the PR department told me that when he had worked for the San Francisco 49ers many years before, they just conducted the draft by phone with the NFL headquarters. Then they typed up a list of their draftees, sent it out and hoped that a paper would at least list their new players.

Quite a bit different with the magnitude of how things are handled today.

In fact, the greatest commissioner of all time, Pete Rozelle, in response to ESPN saying they wanted to cover the NFL Draft, said, "Who the heck would want to watch the NFL Draft?"

Even the top visionary gets it wrong once in a while.

So too it is with the Combine now, with the NFL making it into another major event in the pro football year.

So as we watch the various Combine events over the next week, let us remember that it was not always such, nor will it ever be this small again!

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