The NFL Combine has exploded in popularity in the last decade-and-change along with the NFL Draft itself, drawing college and pro football fans together to watch former lettermen in their quest to turn football into a career. From Feb. 20-26, several hundred athletes will show up at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the 2013 combine to prove their mettle in physical tests ranging from the ever-popular 40-yard dash to the bench press.
The event began with much less hoopla in 1982. It was more of a check-up than an audition at the time. During that first combine, 163 athletes showed up in Tampa, Fla., to have their medical information documented before they committed their lives to a dangerous sport. The combine was held in New Orleans in 1984 and 1986, and in Arizona in 1985, before moving to Indianapolis permanently in 1987.
Today, the combine has become a means for NFL teams to evaluate pro prospects before the NFL Draft in April. In addition to the physical prodding, athletes will also interview with various organizations and sit down to take the occasionally controversial Wonderlic Test. A perfect score of 50 has reportedly been achieved just once, by former Harvard punter/wide receiver Pat McInally in 1975. Plenty of players have scored well below average, however. LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne scored a 4 at the 2012 Combine. He took plenty of flak for the poor showing, but his response to the incident was just about perfect:
"I looked at the test, and wasn't any questions about football. I didn't see no point in the test. I'm not in school anymore. I didn't complete it. I only finished 15 or 18 questions."
Claiborne went on to be drafted No. 6 overall by the Dallas Cowboys.
The combine has been televised since 2004, thanks to the NFL Network. Viewers can watch in real time as their favorite players run, jump, lift and get their measurements taken in front of the cameras. The show itself often isn't very compelling, depending on how much you enjoy watching people work out.
Sometimes players stand out for dubious reasons, however. Current Cincinnati Bengals right tackle Andre Smith showed up notoriously out of shape to the 2009 combine. He still managed to be taken No. 6 overall, but video of his 40-yard dash will live on in infamy:
Top performances at the NFL Combine since 1999*, courtesy of Top End Sports:
4.24 - Rondel Melendez, WR, Eastern Kentucky - 1999
4.24 - Chris Johnson, RB, East Carolina - 2008
4.28 - Champ Bailey, CB, Georgia - 1999
4.28 - Jerome Mathis, WR, Hampton - 2005
4.28 - Jacoby Ford, WR, Clemson - 2010
4.28 - Demarcus Van Dyke, DB, Miami - 2011
Bench Press (Most 225-Pound Reps)
51 - Justin Ernest, DT, Eastern Kentucky - 1999
49 - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State - 2011
45 - Leif Larsen, DT, Texas-El Paso - 2000
45 - Mike Kudla, DE, Ohio State - 2006
45 - Mitch Petrus, OG, Arkansas - 2010
Vertical Jump (Inches)
46 - Gerald Sensabaugh, FS, North Carolina - 2005
45 1/2 - Derek Wake, OLB, Penn State - 2005
45 - Chris Chambers, WR, Wisconsin - 2001
45 - Chris McKenzie, CB, Arizona State - 2005
45 - Donald Washington, CB, Ohio State - 2009
6.42 - Jeff Maehl, WR, Oregon State - 2011
6.44 - Buster Skrine, DB, Tennessee-Chattanooga - 2011
6.45 - Sedrick Curry, CB, Texas A&M - 2000
6.48 - Rogers Beckett, FS, Marshall - 2000
6.49 - Carlos Rogers, CB, Auburn - 2005
*The NFL doesn't keep official records, so pre-1999 there is little information available. Bo Jackson reportedly ran a 4.12 40-yard dash at the 1986 NFL Combine. Deion Sanders reportedly ran a 4.21 in 1989. Unfortunately, hand-timing, surface differences and/or shaky reporting make the data less reliable, though there is no questioning that both of those two men were (and perhaps still are) blisteringly fast.