Did Bill Polian Expose a Charade? And other Combine Thoughts

The NFL Scouting Combine is coming to a close today. No more clinging to the constantly rising and falling stock of the stars of tomorrow as they run around the practice field in shorts and a t-shirt (or state of the art spandex). No more stories about how teams love a certain player, followed by stories from the media telling us that most of those stories are just lies created to throw off other teams.

If you can't tell, I'm not a fan of the combine. In fact, since the NFL Network turned it into a "made for TV" event, I've caught exactly 1 workout: Andrew Luck's. The truth is, I don't know how to decipher half of what I'm seeing, and the half I can decipher – being able to read plain stats such as 40 times and bench press – seem utterly inane to me in the context of football. Really, does it matter how fast I can run in a straight line while not wearing pads? [Spoiler Alert: No]

That said, it is a popular event, so let's talk about some of the bigger news items from the past weekend.

Bill Polian talks to Dan Dakich

I know this interview has been making the rounds, and if you haven't heard it yet please make a point to check it out. This link won't take you directly to it – their podcast page isn't the most intuitive – but you should be able to find it on page 2 or 3, and it's well worth the effort. (Hat tip to my friend Garrison who first shared this interview with me last week on the twitters)

If you've read my work or listened to our shows over the past year – first, thanks so much!!!! and if not, why not?!!? – you'll know how much of a Polian fan I am. So to hear him talk about football in general is a treat, I think he sees and thinks football on a different level from most humans. His opinions on the read option, the combine, and on Luke concessions are all great, but what really caught my ear was hearing him talk about Andrew Luck and RG (no III for Uncle Bill).

And it took me a couple of days for the impact of his words on the subject to sink in.  Here is what Bill had to say:

"I said to Jim Irsay – just two days before I got let go – 'I've done all the work on the top quarterbacks, RG and Andrew' – my son Chris joined me, he had done the same amount of work. Tom Telesco wasn't in the building, but he was… you know, all three of us had seen them both at great length.  And I said, 'whatever happens tomorrow, we're golden because we're going to get one of the two, they're both can't miss. And if we end up with the first pick, make it your choice, I don't care, both of them are going to be great."

Poian relays that Irsay's choice was Andrew, based largely on the assumption that Robert Griffin III's style would lead to injuries at some point in his career.

So why is this quote significant to me? If you remember back to January, February, and March of last year, you may remember Jim Irsay insisting that no choice had been made on Peyton Manning's status, let alone what they would do with the 1st overall pick. Polian's quotes, however, seem to imply that a decision had been made before the season had even ended.

My biggest issue with Irsay during those 3 months wasn't the decisions he was making – sure, I didn't like seeing vets being cut, but I could live with it – but the fact that I felt like he was lying to me (and every Colts fan), every time he spoke publicly. Polian's comments seem to confirm that, at least on some level (Polian never brings up Manning's name, so one could argue that maybe they would draft Luck and keep Manning, but I don't believe that was ever an option in their minds – rightfully so).

I'm sure many of you may not care, but for me this is a big deal. I'm very much about honesty and respect, and I wish Jim Irsay had given his customers a little of both last off-season. It may have made the bitter string of those cuts a little more palpable.

Thoughts on Manti Te'oi

The biggest storyline of the combine was clearly the circus surrounding Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o. His meteoric drop from Heisman finalist, top-10 draft pick, and beloved figure to persona non grata would be fascinating if not for the fact that it turns my stomach.

Let me lay it all out there: I'm not a Notre Dame fan and I never really bought into the Te'o hysteria, so what I'm about to write isn't influenced by my fan biases.

The way some in the media are treating Te'o disgusts me. His Saturday press conference was more "vultures circling a carcass" than "organized media gathering."  The way they openly mocked him before he got to the podium – publicly making hilarious about the empty podium, etc – to some of the questions they asked him – "Are you currently dating anyone in real life?" – just helped show that many of the assembled media were more interested in tearing this kid down than they were in reporting on a story.

And why? Because they got duped? I guess that's what happens when you equate off-the-field issues with on-field performance. No one – not media, not fans, and in many cases not teammates – knows who players really are. We all love Peyton Manning because he's the greatest QB of all time. But we somehow allow his greatness on the field to make us believe that he's some great person off of it. Maybe he is. Maybe he isn't. The truth is, we will never know. But here's the rule I live by: how nice and great do I find people in general? Now how would I think most of those people would act if I gave them millions of dollars and a ton of fame and attention?  Yep.

Back to Te'o: the biggest issue here, though, is that everyone covering the story refuses to believe that Te'o himsef may have actually been duped. I hate to call people in the media old and slightly out of touch… but…. if the rotary phone fits, dial it. I have no trouble believing that it is possible to fall in love on the internet. I have no trouble believing that you can form, develop, and cultivate a relationship that makes you feel as though you are madly, deeply in love with someone, maybe even their soulmate. And I have no trouble believing that if Te'o was duped, that he had no clue how to properly handle it after he discovered the truth.

Some people in the press conference made the point of, "he still talks as though she's real!"  This just makes me feel like Te'o is telling the truth. To him, she was real. Think about how people who actually lose loved ones react. They often refer to that person as if they were still alive. Why is this so hard for people to understand and believe? And why is it such a funny topic to them? Are your egos that hurt over being duped? Now try considering what Te'o's feeling right now.

To make matters worse, on Monday ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio went on the Dan Patrick Show and said that teams were trying to get to the bottom of Manti Te'o's sexuality. It's the elephant in the room, according to Florio. (You can hear the interview here, the Te'o bit starts at 15:10) Before anyone gets mad at Florio, he makes the correct point, "it shouldn't matter." 

In a league that is constantly trying to bring equality to the sidelines and front offices with the Rooney Rule, they should take some time to try to weed out other horrible prejudices. Football is championed as the great meritocracy – the best players play. Skin color, religion, nor sexual orientation should factor into someone's ability to make it in the NFL.

I don't know if Te'o is one of the best players in the upcoming draft, but I hope that he's judged and drafted based on what he'll do on the field, and not what people think may happen in his bedroom.