NFL Combine Diary, Day 2: Tim Tebow and Autograph-gate

I could tell you about my second day at the NFL Combine in chronological order, but as journalists would scold: I'd be burying the lead... Lede. Whatever. Here's what happened:

MAKING FRIENDS AND INFLUENCING PEOPLE

It's about 3:00 p.m. and I'm walking to go fetch some caffeine when I have to halt abruptly to avoid running over someone who cuts in front of me from my right. Before I can apologize for the near-collision, I realize it's Tim Tebow, and in the two seconds it takes me to process the surprise, he's moved on and is headed towards Stage C. I realize my good fortune, trail him to the stage, turn on my voice recorder, place it on the podium, and settle in for the biggest event of the day.

The voice in the sky announces, "Now appearing on Stage C, some guy from the University of Florida." It's sort of been the running joke of the Combine: we all know how ridiculous Tebow-mania is, and yet there's not one of us who's even bothered pretending that we're not dropping whatever we're doing to sprint his way when the time comes.

The time is here, and if I can say with a straight face that if I'd arrived in the second wave I would not have elbowed my way up to the front, by good fortune I'm standing front and center in front of the most talked about NFL prospect of the year--if not decade. Maybe ever. Who knows?

What I do know is that I don't cover live events as a reporter very often and this is likely the only time I'll be standing three feet away from this player who--whatever else you think about him on or off the field--is probably the single most visible player in college football history. As the throngs of media members hustle towards the stage, I realize that while I've not yet used my camera to record any video, if ever there was a time, this is surely it. I pull out my camera, turn on the power, and fiddle with the settings before raising it towards the podium where Tebow is to speak.

And this is the first thing that I see:

/sound effect of record screeching to a halt.  Wait, what? Rewind: did I just see what I think I just saw?

Seriously, watch it again: the video couldn't be clearer. Tim Tebow scribbles in a notebook and hands it back to a reporter. Somebody behind me says what every one of us is thinking: Tim Tebow's celebrity is so oversized that reporters are asking for his autograph!

Fast forward 30 minutes to the end of Tebow's media session, and I'm walking back to my work station through a throng of reporters gossiping about The Incident at the beginning of the presser. Another reporter is on the phone giving a radio interview and I overhear him say, "One other note on Tebow's press conference: I've never seen this before in my life, but a reporter asked for his autograph before the session even got under way. I don't know who it was, but man, that guy has some real stones."

Having stood right next to him throughout the press conference, I know exactly who it was--John Hoover of the Tulsa World, a sports writer whose work I know well as a fan of the Texas Longhorns. Though I rarely use Twitter other than to announce that new posts are up at Burnt Orange Nation, I've been using it throughout the NFL Combine to relay little tidbits to my followers.

"A shame that a talent like Danario Alexander's battling through yet another knee injury."

"Brad Childress looks like a garden gnome."

Without thinking much of it, I fire off a new Tweet:

"Tulsa reporter John Hoover asked for Tebow's autograph at the media session."

At this point, I find the incident far more amusing than anything else (more on this in a minute)--commentary on Tim Tebow's truly ridiculous popularity--but the replies to my Tweet aren't at all focused on Tebow, but on Hoover, for committing Journalist No-No No. 1: the dreaded breach of impartiality. Given I'd arrived in Indianapolis committed to PB's Combine Coverage Rule No. 1--think like a fan, not like a journalist--it is perhaps unsurprising that I miscalculate the reaction.

Nevertheless, with Jordan Shipley about to speak to the media, I put the whole thing out of mind for a while and head back to the floor. I'm away from my computer for less than hour, but in 2010 Internet Time that's like being away for a week. Since I've been gone, my Tweet has reached John Hoover himself, and he has begun... reacting, shall we say. His spray of Tweets cover two main points: (1) PB is a liar, and (2) PB is a s***head.

I weigh his two points against the two that led me to say anything in the first place: (1) a couple dozen others saw the same thing that I saw, and (2) my video camera saw the same thing that I saw. John Hoover gave Tim Tebow his notebook, Tebow signed it, and handed it back.

I know that I'm not lying--an intentional crime--but as I reflect on the situation, I acknowledge I could be mistaken. Suzanne Haliburton of the Austin American-Statesman sends me a message, urging me to delete my Tweet, which she insists is inaccurate. Hoover had held out his notebook as a joke, she explains, asking Tebow to write his notes for him. With no agenda, I decide that whether or not that's what actually happened, it's not worth sullying John Hoover's name, and send out a correction via Twitter, then look up John's email on the Tulsa World website and send an explanatory note, offering my apologies. John writes back appreciatively, apologizing for calling me unprintable names. I thank him for understanding my mistake, and he emphasizes that he didn't intend for his initial reaction to sound so threatening. It's email Kumbaya.

Then, after all that--just when I'm about to log off for the night--it hits me: though I didn't start my video in time to catch the beginning of the Hoover-Tebow exchange, my early arrival at the stage meant I'd been able to turn on my audio recorder and place it on the podium in front of Tebow while everyone else rushed in. Whatever John Hoover said when he held out his notebook would be on my recording.

I plug in my headphones, scan through the recorded interviews until I find the Tebow session, and hit play. Not thirty seconds in, I hear a voice I recognize as John Hoover's say something. I rewind the tape, turn the audio all the way to max volume, listen for it again, and this time make out the words. It's definitely John Hoover, and he definitely says: "Do you want to do my notes for me?" I hear a handful of people laugh, followed by a long pause, and then Hoover again: "My laptop's over there if you want to go ahead and file the story for me, too." 

I can't help but chuckle at the exchange: Hoover's crack on Mr. Do-It-All is actually quite funny and, even funnier, Tebow didn't flinch, grabbed the notebook, and played right along. Touché...

(John Hoover describes the incident here.)

BEST OF THE REST

More Tebow: Autograph-gate explained, a few things about Tim Tebow himself: Though I'd always found it hard to understand just what it was that made Tebow such a fan and media darling, watching him do his thing cleared that up quickly. I've seen other hyper-charismatic players on the football field (Vince Young comes to mind), but never anyone who's equally good in front of the cameras. Here, see for yourself:

At one point later in the press conference, a reporter asks about the role that "Team Tebow" is playing in his Draft preparation, to which Tebow gives the reporter a condescending look and replies, "Team Tebow?"  Everyone in the room laughs. The reporter tries to clarify who he means, but Tebow's moved on. It's a classic Cool Kid moment, one of several throughout the presser, and I begin to understand why he always owns whatever room that he's in.

Dez Bryant, WR Oklahoma State:  You don't need media access to understand why Dez Bryant is so good on the football field, but I do to understand why he made such a needless mistake of lying to the NCAA. Standing in front of a throng of reporters, Bryant could not be more uncomfortable. He answers questions tentatively, extremely nervous. One question after another, reporters ask him about the incident, and it's clear by the end of it all that Bryant lied because he was nervous, just like he is now. I'd be surprised if he has a malicious bone in his body. Listening to him talk about his difficult background and everything he went through to get here, I find myself happy for him, glad his payday has finally arrived. I'll be rooting for him.

Bryant concludes his presser by announcing he will not be working out at the Combine, due to a tweaked hamstring. He'll work out for teams at Oklahoma State's Pro Day.

Jordan Shipley, WR Texas: Remarkable fact of the day: Jordan Shipley has never been timed in a 40-yard dash in his life. His run on Sunday will be his first ever.

Danario Alexander, WR Missouri: I'm dismayed to see Alexander walk in to the media room on crutches. He's hurt his knee... again. Most people forget that there was a time when Alexander was ahead of Jeremy Maclin on the depth chart. Injuries have held him back, but when healthy, he's about as good an NFL prospect as the more acclaimed Dez Bryant. This is a big setback, though. Here's to hoping for a full recovery.

Zac Robinson, QB Oklahoma State:  How cool is this? Robinson tells us that the primary reason he signed with his agent was because he also represented Colt McCoy, and Robinson wanted the chance to compete, work, and train with him in preparation for the Draft. The two quarterbacks have been working out together in Irvine, CA.

Jevan Snead, QB Ole Miss: OSU's Robinson, Cincinnti's Tony Pike, and Jevan Snead are the only 3 of the top 10 QB's in this year's class that will be working out and throwing at the Combine.

Jeff Fisher, Head Coach Tennessee Titans: Facing a slew of questions about Vince Young, it's clear Jeff Fisher still doesn't want to admit that he was wrong to delay replacing Kerry Collins with VY. To the end, Fisher refuses to budge, blaming Collins' struggles on dropped passes while reducing Vince Young's success to being the beneficiary of the Titans' great running game.

Jeff_fisher1_medium
Jeff Fisher feigns surprise at the suggestion he waited too long to reinstall Vince Young.

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