My excellent adventure to the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis actually began about a week-and-a-half prior to my Monday, Feb. 24 flight from Albany.
This story starts on Friday, Feb. 14. Not Friday the 13th. But, yes, Valentine’s Day. And I’ve heard the Valentine’s Day jokes for close to six decades now, so you can save them.
Anyway, as some of you may remember from a recent column I wrote I have had neck issues for probably the past decade. Nothing incredibly debilitating, just stuff that I have to be aware of and careful about at times.
So, that night I went to bed not quite understanding why my right shoulder and the right side of my neck were causing me an immense, unusual amount of pain. I still don’t really know.
Anyway, all I managed was two hours of sleep before I awoke in excruciating pain and thought I’d take a potty break before heading to the couch for the rest of the night. I never made it.
By the time I got to the bathroom I was drenched in sweat. I tried to make it to the couch. Didn’t happen. I woke up on the hardwood floor after passing out and bouncing off of God knows what on the way down to find that my glasses were busted, my face was cut and my neck was basically locked in place.
My comparison for the condition of my neck? Like trying to move a rusty bolt that hasn’t been turned in two or three decades.
So, a good chunk of Saturday was spent in an emergency room, where all the ER jamoke who passed himself off as a doctor cared about was whether or not I had suffered a heart attack. Which I had not.
The neck I couldn’t move? He sent me home with a couple of useless Valium and a report that said “patient has full mobility of his neck.” Which he determined after neither testing nor x-raying it.
Thank you, Pete St. Germain
Pete St. Germain is my God send of a physical therapist, and the reason I was able to move my neck even a little bit and feel comfortable enough to make this trip. He’s dealt with my neck and my surgically-repaired back for years, and made space in his insane schedule to see me four times in six business days to help me get some tiny (I mean, REAAALLY tiny) semblance of motion and just enough confidence that my neck (with an airline pillow around it) could handle bouncing around on an airplane.
Oh, and thank you to the physician’s assistant at my primary doctor who finally ordered X-rays that determined there were no fractures in my neck. Lots of degenerative disc disease, a bone spur, a disc that is out of place (what’s called ‘Anterior Shifting’ if you want the medical term) and inflammation that won’t go away for weeks, but no fractures.
If you remember from a year ago, I drove the 790 miles from my home to Indianapolis. I didn’t want to try that again this time and that’s a good thing. No way I could have driven it this time.
Off to Indy!
Laugh if you want, but Monday included the first — and second — Uber rides of my life.
Getting from Albany, N.Y. to Indy wasn’t bad, except for the 90-minute delay boarding my connecting flight. As you most likely know, traveling can almost never be completely smooth sailing.
By the way, as stupid as they might look around your neck those pillows really do help.
First day of Combine media availability. GM Dave Gettleman and head coach Joe Judge were available, and we know they managed to muddy up the waters when it comes to whether or not the organization really believes in Daniel Jones. That whole thing was, and is, perplexing.
Player-wise, quarterbacks, tight ends and wide receivers were available to media. Spoke with the very impressive CeeDee Lamb.
The highlight of my day, though? Meeting Mark Schofield in person. As long as Mark has done work with me here at Big Blue View, we had never met in person until Tuesday while we were working the media room.
Mark is the best quarterback analyst I know, but he always says he wasn’t a very good college quarterback. Now I know part of the reason. Hey, Schofield, how many inches did that Wesleyan College bio that claims you’re 5-foot-10 actually add?
Wednesday began with me being mesmerized by the biggest football player I have probably ever dealt with, and ended with my paying the biggest dinner bill of my life. Memo to Vox Media overlords who were expecting/hoping/praying I would stick to the meal per diem — you might want to stop reading now.
The first thing I did Wednesday was make sure I got to the Indiana Convention Center in time for Mekhi Becton’s media availability. He’s every bit of 6-foot-7 and change and 364 pounds. And I will tell you from personal experience it can be, umm, uncomfortable when he glares at you.
Now, about that dinner bill.
When you travel, there are always places in those cities that are “Bucket List” sort of stops. St. Elmo’s Steak House is one such place in Indianapolis. St. Elmo’s has been in business since 1902 and is an Indianapolis landmark.
Emory Hunt, who has been there a number of times, started chatting with Patricia Traina and I about eating there months before the Combine. Pat ended up unable to go, so I ventured out for the most expensive meal of my life with Hunt and Chris James of Football Gameplan, and ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter Turron Davenport.
By the way, Pat bailing on us left me as the token white guy at our table, with Emory saying I was “bringing the diversity” to the evening.
St. Elmo’s is one of those places where the waiters wear tuxedos, and where the cheapest steak on the menu is $43. I mean, you’re really not going to go a place like this for the first time and order the cheapest thing on the menu, the $25 chicken breast. Are you? Want to go all-in? Order the $104 dry-aged prime ribeye.
Anyway, this is one of those places where you know if you’re walking in the door you’re not really caring about how much lighter your wallet is when you leave.
Now, $11 salad for me, $15.95 shrimp cocktails for the rest of the group, plentiful and awesome bread, steak and potatoes was plenty.
But, Emory spotted someone eating St. Elmo’s famous bread pudding. And yours truly has a rule. No one eats dessert alone. So, if he was ordering the bread pudding, so was I. And we did. Hey, I had my “flex waist” jeans on.
Turns out, what St. Elmo’s calls “White Chocolate Blueberry Bread Pudding” should actually be renamed “The Largest, Most Outstanding Bread Pudding You Will Ever Eat and Not Finish.” There’s soooo much you really want to finish, but you just can’t. Well, not if you’re a normal human being who has already eaten a monstrous meal instead of a 300+ pound offensive lineman.
My final dinner bill? Just $115, including tip. For me alone. The kind of thing you have to do once, but can’t do all the time.
There was one other notable thing about Wednesday. It snowed Tuesday night and early Wednesday in Indianapolis, and I spent the time praying that we wouldn’t get hit as badly as some of the surrounding areas because the only shoes that went to Indianapolis with me were the sneakers I wore all week. My boots stayed home because I traveled with only a carry-on, and they obviously weren’t fitting in there. I lucked out as we got maybe 2 inches that ended up being no big deal.
Finally, Wednesday was the day I landed the exclusive and awesome “Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich” post. A career highlight, no doubt.
Final full day in Indy for yours truly. Talked to a lot of linebackers and edge guys, met Alex Kirshner of SB Nation’s Banner Society, SB Nation’s cool college football site.
An early dinner (a much less expensive one) with Pat Traina at a little spot called ‘Tavern on the South’ that sat pretty much in-between her hotel and mine, which were pretty much next-door to each other, anyway. Then, off for a couple of hours to one of the many gatherings held around town by sports agencies. This one was at the Ram Restaurant, where I bumped into Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post.
It was, of course, nice to get home on Friday. When you travel, at some point no matter how productive you are or how much you’re enjoying the trip, you realize you miss your own bed.
A final note about Indianapolis. It’s a great, active, bustling place. It’s a big city with tons to do and experience that really feels like a small town. No matter where you stay you can pretty much walk everywhere within about 15 minutes. In fact, if you get into the skywalk you can manage much of that walking around town without even being outside.
I borrowed the map below from Banner Society, which did an outstanding piece on getting to know Indianapolis. Everything you see there you can walk to, and there are way more memorable spots to visit than a guy who was there to focus on football — and needed some sleep — could get to.
So, that’s this year’s Indy trip. Indianapolis, because of its layout and the absolute ease of access to anything and everything you want or need is the perfect place for the Combine. And now do you know what’s going to happen? The league will probably move it to some nightmarish city to get around just to try and monetize it.
- Lucas Oil Stadium at night. Photo by Ed Valentine
- St. Elmo’s bread pudding. It’s even better, and bigger, than it looks. Photo by Ed Valentine
- Mekhi Becton Photo by Ed Valentine
- Temple center Matt Hennessy Photo by Ed Valentine
- Rhode Island OL Kyle Murphy Photo by Ed Valentine
- A little bit of winter weather from outside my hotel. Photo by Ed Valentine
- This is how close my hotel was to Lucas Oil Stadium. Photo by Ed Valentine
- Wintry view from my hotel window. Photo by Ed Valentine
- Yetur Gross-Matos Photo by Ed Valentine
- Chase Young — and that’s as close as I could get. Photo by Ed Valentine
- Jabari Zuniga Photo by Ed Valentine
- Zack Baun Photo by Ed Valentine