As I was lying flat on my back on the turf of the indoor field at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, eyes clutched tight and pain throbbing down my lower back, one thought repeated itself in my mind:
“What in the world was I thinking?”
Such was the scene at last Monday’s inaugural Seattle Seahawks media combine, with one poor sportswriter writhing around in agony, while swirling all around were a host of others being run through football drills.
How did I end up in this position, you ask?
This whole ordeal began on Feb. 19. I was on vacation and at my computer when I saw a series of tweets from my fellow Seahawks reporters about taking part in the Seahawks media combine. The NFL scouting combine was approaching, and the Seahawks decided to use the occasion to put the media through the same drills as the college players seeking to get picked in the NFL draft.
I immediately scanned my e-mail in box, found no invitation, and began sulking, thinking I had been snubbed. Until my wife came up behind me and said, “What about that one that says, ‘Combine?’ Indeed, there was an e-mail from an unfamiliar address that I’d overlooked, thinking it was spam. Chalk one up for my observational skills.
What a great idea! Here’s an event that will keep the Seahawks in the headlines during the offseason, and it gives the media members a first-hand perspective of one of football’s player-evaluation methods, including the ever-so-scrutinized 40-yard dash.
Only one problem. I had no idea if I was physically capable of participating.
You see, I’ve had lower-back issues for more than four years — my back went out twice this winter. The invitation arrived while I was undergoing physical therapy trying to deal with the latest outage. Back problems meant I hadn’t run more than five steps in maybe a year. I wanted to take part, but didn’t know if that was a good idea.
I told my physical therapist about the media combine and asked her if I was capable of competing. She stuck me on a treadmill for about 30 seconds and said, ‘Well, you’ve just gone more than 40 yards.’ That was all the green light I needed.
But having not done anything physically vigorous for as long as I remember, I wasn’t about to jump into the combine cold. Therefore, two days later I headed to the local high school to test things out on the football field.
That’s right, I needed to practice how to run. You have no idea how humbling it is for someone who grew up as an athlete to need to re-learn how to run.
But no setbacks were suffered. I dusted off my Seahawks Super Bowl t-shirt — this is known in the biz as “sucking up” — and was off to the combine.
A total of 24 brave souls showed up at the Seahawks’ indoor practice facility in Renton to take part in the combine. That included the Seahawks’ mascot, Blitz, and three of the Sea Gals.
That may have been my undoing. Competing against my fellow media members wasn’t a big deal. I could have justified taking it easy, not risked anything, and enjoyed the experience. But Blitz and the Sea Gals? There was no way I was going to allow myself to get beat by someone in a giant bird costume without a fight.
Allowing those competitive juices to start flowing was my big mistake. I wasn’t helped by the arrival of several Seahawks players, including Pro Bowlers Richard Sherman and Bobby Wagner, who seemed eager to turn the tables and evaluate the evaluators for a change.
We were split into two groups. Having been the first to arrive, I was put in the unfortunate position of going first on each drill. Making matters worse, right behind me in line was former Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant, who was sure to make all of my efforts seem puny by comparison.
Things started off well enough. My 6-foot-8 mark in the broad jump tied for eighth among the 24 competitors. But then came the shuttle run, a drill designed to test one’s quickness, agility and ability to change direction. On the last of those changes of direction I planted with my left leg and immediately felt a twinge in my back. I managed to cross the line in 5.25 seconds, which again finished a respectable eighth. But I knew I was in trouble.
Our group’s next event was the 40-yard dash, which is the glamor event of the combine. Despite experiencing excruciating pain while trying to jog off the injury, I decided I wasn’t going to leave the combine without running the 40. Maybe not the smartest decision, but it was why I was there.
It took me several steps just to get past that initial barrier of pain, then halfway down the course I felt this slapping against my leg, and I realized I had left my phone in my pocket. Oops. I crossed the line in a pathetic 6.58 seconds — for perspective, 4.4 seconds is considered elite — and I finished behind Blitz and all three Sea Gals.
My ignominy was complete, and I shut it down for the day, skipping the three-cone drill, the vertical leap and the pass-catching gauntlet.
As I walked gingerly back to the car after the event was over, knowing I had just set myself back to square one with regards to my recovery, it would have been easy to regret my decision to participate in the media combine.
But I didn’t.
I got to see 710 AM’s Danny O’Neil taking part in all the drills wearing a suit and a bow tie. I got to see John Boyle, my predecessor as the Herald’s Seattle sports reporter who now works for the Seahawks’ website, kill it in the 40-yard dash and the broad jump. I got to see SeattlePI.com’s Stephen Cohen burst through a shoe while doing the shuttle run. And I got to see the Tacoma News Tribune’s Gregg Bell accuse Seahawks director of football communications Lane Gammel of intentionally making an errant throw to prevent him from a perfect run in the gauntlet.
I may have come away from the media combine sporting a limp for several days, but I was glad I was there. I’m thankful to the Seahawks for putting on an event like this. It gave those of us who write about the game a brief glimpse at the other side of the ledger, and I believe everyone who took part enjoyed themselves.
Even those of us who came away injured.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Seattle Sidelines blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/seattlesidelines, and follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.