Every trip to Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine is an adventure that winds up involving a whole lot more than talking to NFL Draft prospects and working in the media room.
This was my third trip to Indy for the Combine. The previous two times I did an “Ed’s Excellent Adventure” piece. So, I guess it is now a tradition. Here goes this year’s version.
Monday, Feb. 28
My wife warned me. When I booked my travel from Albany, N.Y. to Indianapolis she told me I had better hope my connecting flight from Albany to LaGuardia (there wasn’t a direct flight) was on time. There were only 50 minutes between the scheduled landing time of that flight and takeoff of my ultimate flight from New York to Indianapolis.
You know where this is going.
Of course, the first flight was delayed. The initial expected 35-minute delay would have left me needing a new flight to Indianapolis. As things ended up, the 15-minute delay made it a simple (or not so simple) race against the clock to make the connection.
The airline swore I had time to make the second flight. I did. Barely. Construction at LaGuardia meant taking a shuttle from one gate to the next. Then, it meant moving as fast as my 61-year-old bones would allow while wheeling a carry on and carrying a laptop bag.
As things ended up, I was the final person to board. Sweating. Out of breath. Needing to store my carry-on about eight rows behind my assigned seat. But, on the plane. Thank goodness!
My adventures, though, weren’t over. The previous two times I have covered the Combine I stayed at the Holiday Inn Downtown just an alleyway from Lucas Oil Stadium. Well, after taking an Uber there I discovered I was at the Holiday Inn Express Downtown this time. So, off I went with my stuff. Thankfully, there is really only a short alley separating those two hotels.
Final adventure of the day? I walked to ‘Harry & Izzy’s’ restaurant for dinner. Everybody walks in Indy — unless you are Arif Hasan of The Athletic or a local and you are zipping around on a scooter.
Typical of the way things happen in Indy, as I was leaving Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians and an entourage were walking in. That’s just how things roll in Indianapolis.
Tuesday, March 1
So, West Coast folks are soft — really soft — when it comes to dealing with weather.
Oh ok so it’s COLD cold out here— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) March 1, 2022
Cold? It was 41 degrees. At 8 a.m. That’s balmy. It actually got into the 70s on Saturday — as I was leaving, of course.
Jordan writes for Niners Nation. West Coast. That explains a lot. I guess he can be forgiven for being chilled, since I was informed it was in the 70s when he left California. Those poor folks have it rough when they have to travel to parts of the country that actually experience all four seasons.
I’m too old for the night time bar-hopping game that is popular in Indianapolis, and necessary if you are going to pick up tidbits of information and make some connections.
Evan “Tex” Western and Tyler Brooke of Acme Packing Company were part of the SB Nation crew in Indianapolis. Tyler’s a local and Evan’s regular job brings him to Indy a lot. I tagged along with them to a little spot called ‘The Eagle’ I never would have found on my own for an awesome dinner Tuesday night.
Because everyone has to do it at least once while they are in Indy, we hopped over to the bar at the JW Marriott post-dinner. Why does everyone have to do it? Well, mostly because many of the NFL teams stay there, and if you’re out late enough you can see and be seen.
Tyler and Evan are young fellas, in their 20s and 30s, respectively. This 61-year-old has no desire to try to drink with them, or stay out until all hours of the night and then try to get up by 6 a.m. to start working. When they headed for another bar, I headed down the street to my hotel for bed.
Yeah, I’m old. I know.
The highlight of my time at the Rye Bar? My wife called so I could say goodnight to our 6-year-old granddaughter, who lives with us. So, yeah. I’m not a party animal.
Wednesday, March 2
I have been dealing with pro athletes and the people who cover them ever since I was a college kid. That was a looooong time ago. The first time I realized that even the best of them can be jerks sometimes was when the great Hank Aaron shooed me away from his locker with the wave of his hand and a “go talk to someone else, kid” when I tried to talk to him after an Old Timers’ All-Star Game at the old RFK Stadium.
I mention that decades-old memory because I know that fans often wonder why I’m not awed, or intimidated, by athletes, coaches, etc. They’re just people doing a job, albeit a more public and well-paying one than most of us. Some of them are awesome. Some of them are a pain in the butt. Just like all of us.
So, Wednesday morning during a lull between interview sessions I was walking around and I spotted Peter Schrager of NFL Network. Now, Peter doesn’t know me. Or, I thought he didn’t. So, I meandered up and introduced myself.
I got greeted with, and I’m paraphrasing a bit, “I know who you are. I read your stuff all the time.”
We chatted for a bit after that. So, yeah. Schrager goes in the nice guy column. And my ego got a bit of a boost.
Also, even after 15 years of doing this, being credentialed to cover the Giants, having come to Indy for the Combine three times now, and knowing how big BBV has become, I am still surprised sometimes when people bigger and more well-known than I am — be that players or media members — are familiar with what we do at Big Blue View.
Thursday night was dinner by myself. I decided to check out Kilroy’s, another of the local hot spots for Combine attendees I had never visited.
After another terrific meal — it’s hard to have a bad meal in this city — I took advantage of a beautiful night with temperatures still hovering around 60 degrees to take a walk around the city.
It is a gorgeous, interesting place. The photos below give you just a tiny glimpse of what Lucas Oil Stadium and the area around it look like at night.
I did learn one thing, though. If you are going to walk around the city at night, especially around Monument Circle, you better pay attention. And it helps if you still have a little bit of agility. I’m not running any 3-cone drills, but I can still move when I need to.
Remember up top I mentioned scooters. They are everywhere in this city. You can rent them all over the place, and on nearly every sidewalk you see people zipping around on them rather than walking.
In Monument Circle, scooter riding seems to be a leisure activity. If you are walking you are vastly outnumbered by scooters, and you’re well advised to be ready to dodge as packs of scooter riders go careening by.
Thursday, March 3
If you have met Jon Ledyard of ‘Pewter Report’ you know he is a massively muscled individual. I have known Jon casually for a few years through his draft work, and have chatted with him a few times.
Until Thursday night, though, I had never truly had the Jon Ledyard Experience.
Mark Schofield had arranged dinner at Fogo De Chao, a popular Brazilian steakhouse in Indianapolis. In case you have never been to a Brazilian steakhouse — I had not — this is an all-you-can-eat meat-fest.
Order the “Experience”, as Fogo De Chao calls it, and you get as much food as you can stuff into your stomach before tapping out.
That starts with a salad bar you can visit as many times as you like. Then, if the card they give you says “Yes, please,” servers start bringing you massive kabobs of meat of all kinds. You want what they have, they lop off a hunk with a HUGE, scary-looking knife.
The food just keeps coming ... and coming ... and coming ... and coming until you tap out, turning your card over to “no, thanks.”
So, back to Ledyard. Schofield and I were in the same hotel and on the way to the restaurant Mark warned me that eating with Ledyard, who had also never done the Brazilian steakhouse thing, was something to behold.
Indeed it was.
The man made the rookie mistake of piling his salad tray full of rice. Then, when the meat started coming he ate ... and he ate ... and he ate ... and he ate.
So much so that Schofield posted a photo that led to a hilarious Twitter thread.
This man brought his game face. pic.twitter.com/tWVXqjomfP— Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) March 3, 2022
One by one we tapped out. Arif Hasan, Dan Pizzuta, myself, Schofield and — eventually — Owen Reise. After two hours it got to the point where we were simply watching Ledyard, who claimed to just be getting started, eat.
I think the only reason he stopped is that we guilted him into it by asking for our checks and starting to put our coats on.
I saw Ledyard in the interview room the next morning. He jokingly told me that he doesn’t have many talents, but that one he does have is eating more than a human being should be able to.
One other note about that trip. On my way to meet Schofield, I shared an elevator ride from the fourth floor to the lobby with a gentleman I didn’t know. Turns out, Schofield did. When we got off the elevator Mark introduced me to Steve Tasker, former Buffalo Bills special teams star.
We then walked a few blocks chatting with Tasker. Again, that’s just how Indy is. You never know who is around the corner, in the elevator, or sitting at the next table.
Friday, March 4
This day was not nearly as eventful — even though I tried.
After spending my morning listening to draft prospects, and being thoroughly impressed by Oregon edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux, I called it an early day and left the media work room around 1 p.m.
My intent was to spend the afternoon working from the hotel. Instead — nap time! That ended up being a refreshing two-hour nap, my only one of the week. I’m actually rather proud of that, considering that afternoon naps have become a fairly regular thing for me.
Evan, Tyler and yours truly had dinner at Kilroy’s. Later, I decided that I would drag myself up the hill to the JW Marriott to see if anyone I knew was around. Ninety minutes, didn’t see a soul I knew. Well, I recognized Peter King, but that doesn’t really count.
It wasn’t until Saturday morning that Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post clued me in on the right hotel to find Giants personnel. Too little, too late for this year. Another reason, though, why I’m hopeful that the NFL will keep the Combine in Indianapolis for a couple more years.
Saturday, March 5
I hit the cornerback interview at 8 a.m. Not impressed at all by Derek Stingley Jr. and his two- and three-word answers. Thoroughly impressed by Sauce Gardner and would be happy to see the Giants select him at No. 7.
It’s amazing how few media stay in Indy into the weekend. Media sessions were mobbed during the week. There were only a smattering of media members up and about Saturday morning. There were so few, and Stingley was so brief in his answers, that his session ended well before its allotted time. That would not have happened Wednesday or Thursday.
A little souvenir shopping for the grandkids and then I hiked my way up to the press room only to suffer the massive disappointment of learning that free lunch was NOT being served on Saturday. How dare they?
So, I had to find my own lunch. Geez, I was spoiled. Then, off to the airport.
Until next time — hopefully — Indianapolis!