Behind the Combine

3/2/2012

As NFL personnel pack up their measuring tapes, stopwatches and specimen bottles to get out of Indianapolis before it’s set afire over the Colts’ imminent ouster of Peyton Manning, the truly combine-obsessed feel a sense of abandonment. Must…have…more…measurables.

Throughout most of its history, the combine was a largely uninteresting technocratic event staged for scouts. But in recent years, it’s become much more than that. Today, it stands apart as a largely uninteresting technocratic event staged for ESPN.

The NFL is masterful at creating content beyond the actual games to feed ESPN’s insatiable hunger for material to place between sneaker and Snickers commercials. This programming, in turn, feeds the football jones of the millions of addicts who buy up everything Nike and Adidas can manufacture using children in Cambodia who receive the WTO-mandated 11-grains of rice a day to keep their village one day away from starvation. Using this model, one can easily assert that the NFL is the linchpin of the world economy.

Keeping the global economy from imploding is not easy. With respect to the NFL combine it requires making mundane football skills sound crucial and real scientific. For example, we seek guards with “high gluteal adipose” (translation: a very fat ass) and wide-outs with fast times in the “conical-scuttle-shuttle-hop” (translation: runs around traffic cones like a scalded chiuaua).

But it turns out the NFL-ESPN cabal also uses its combine for more than chemo-biophysical-mechanical research on prospects. It also conducts analyses so diabolical and manipulative that they dare not reveal it before the cameras. On the condition of absolute anonymity, league sources described this research to EWM and we instructed our crack team of investigators put down their pipes and delve into this story. Our findings may shock you but it’s a story that must be told.

Behind the Combine: The NFL’s Hype Machine is Humming

Through an intensive battery of focus groups, screen tests and role playing activities NFL prospects are rated on a wide variety of unusual metrics ranging from tattoos, to hair (scalp and facial), on-field expressionism and even niche appeal to affinity groups. These ratings provide both the league and its 32 teams’ marketing departments with the data they need to determine a player’s ICBS (Intangible Collateral Benefit Score).

Hirsute appeal was in vogue this year owing to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ player hair marketing bonanza. Troy Polumalu’s mane attracts major corporate sponsors and the primeval jungle growing out of Bret Keisel’s face provides endless fodder for ESPN. The NFL believes it can parlay this attribute throughout the league but suffered a major marketing setback when their focus group unanimously judged presumed top pick Andrew Luck’s facial growth to be a “pube beard.” Undaunted, scouts are scouring college rosters for players of Hungarian descent that can be “groomed” for success.

The NFL is also looking for the next Emmitt Smith or Jerry Rice to continue its successful line of “Dancing with the Stars” contestants. Unfortunately, auditions at this year’s combine were derailed when defensive linemen thought their female dance partner was portraying Tom Brady and repeatedly tackled her. Despite taking care not to lead with their helmet or hit her below the knees she was knocked senseless. She is expected to recover, albeit with permanent double vision.

End zone expression has long been a staple of gratuitous hype and the creativity displayed by this year’s combine crop has scouts salivating. The camp champion was Lavatious LeRoy a slot-receiver from tiny Southwest Eastern Missouri State who performed a stunning homage to the “Lambeau Leap.” LeRoy’s version, the “Lambeau Launch,” involves affixing bungee cords to the uprights and being pulled to midfield by teammates and released. LeRoy’s second attempt literally sent him into the upper deck, where, tragically, he landed on ESPN’s Mel Kiper who suffered a fractured coif.

Perhaps the NFL’s greatest non-playing marketing need for the 2012 has yet to emerge, but the league is already planning contingencies. This need could arise quickly should Tim Tebow’s quarterback rating continue to be anemic and he be forced to perform his “Tebow” pose on the bench, thus alienating the vast Christian audience. The camp standout in the religiosity sector was John Luke-Paul Nazareth. The Liberty Baptist linebacker dazzled scouts by a doing a self-baptism maneuver that involved sticking his head in a Gatorade bucket after every sack.

In the end, the NFL and ESPN found most of what they needed in the combine to provide grist for the hype mill well into the future. Our source for this story summed it up this way. “This isn’t a game anymore it’s a $9 billion enterprise and that means we got a lot of corporate suits to satisfy. Did we find all our needs, no? For the third straight year the Pottery Barn people left without a suitable gay guy to be their spokesman. But did we find tomorrow’s Madden cover or Armor-All model? I’d have to say yes. From a merchandizing standpoint, this draft should satisfy near every marketplace need.”

So when it’s your team’s turn in this year’s three-day draft-o-pallooza and they take a guy who fits no logical team need, just remember, ICBS.

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