Imagine if you could go back in time about 20 years and – momentarily putting aside your instinct to find and punch Osama bin Laden or shout at the Warriors, “Don’t draft Clifford Rozier!!” – explain to the average sports fan that within a generation he or she will be glued to a screen (I wouldn’t even broach the whole hand-held thing) watching a college quarterback throw to receivers in a practice session.
That fan would think you were smoking weed, and would remind you that it will never be legal to do so. The young sports geek of today would find it just as comprehensible that his forbears not only never considered such a workout to be a televised event, but likely would have had no interest in watching it.
Sports-media consumers of 1994 and 2014. We are two exotic species, staring at one another across the plains, each thinking the other is dressed funny and speaking gibberish.
Johnny Manziel’s now-viral Pro Day workout, televised by both ESPN and NFL Network, may have been a low-water mark for sports programming, but it did answer a question that’s been on my mind for a year or two: What’s next?
It started with the NFL Draft, which used to be something we were content to read about in the newspaper the next day. At some point, Mel Kiper Jr. happened. And when the NFL Network sprang from the head of Paul Tagliabue, the press was on. Draft coverage seeped outward to the extent that we might now feel deprived if we didn’t get at least 96 consecutive hours of the same analysts using the same phrases (“good hip swivel,” “moves well in space”) to describe football players, over the same whining guitar riffs.
About the time it became clear that NFL fans were willing to drink 64-ounce servings of sweetened draft coverage, the Scouting Combine became the next frontier. I covered my first combine in 2005, when the 49ers owned the first pick in the draft. It was a bustle of activity, much to the amusement of the more veteran reporters, who remembered when just a handful of them would show up to talk to the odd GM or coach.
But ’05 was a Gualala City Council meeting compared to what the combine has become, at least in terms of media coverage. Again, it’s helpful to remember that pre-Internet, pre-HDTV sports fans not only were lacking access to such coverage. Believe it or not, we simply weren’t that interested.
But these things don’t seem to move backward. The NFL Draft is an industry with greater annual revenue than Greece. Daily scouting-combine coverage is fully accepted a natural way for sports fans to spend a few days in February. And now we know what’s next: The Pro Day.
Yes, Johnny Manziel is a special case. But don’t believe for a second that ESPN and NFL Net aren’t right-now calculating the possibilities of spotlighting future workouts. Get ready for the highlight-package lead-ins. Get ready for the brief on-site interviews with Bruce Arians and Ozzie Newsome. Get ready for hushed excitement when the kid throws the 20-yard out pass or runs his 40 in 4.73.
I’m guessing 10 televised Pro Days next year. In 2016, the gates will be thrown open, and pretty soon we’ll all be saying, “You remember when these things weren’t even on TV? What the hell did people do for fun when they weren’t holding stopwatches in their living rooms?”