NFL Combine 2014: A history of pro football's annual scouting circus

Joe Robbins

The combine wasn't always such a big deal.

On Feb. 22, hundreds of prospective football players will flock to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis looking to show off their skills and bolster their standing for the NFL Draft. It will be broadcast live by NFL Network and covered ad nauseam by most major sports media outlets. But before the draft -- and the intense player scouting that comes along with it -- became a critical building block of a multi-billion dollar business, the combine was a much milder affair.

The combine's humble beginning took place in 1982 when National Football Scouting Inc. held a camp in Tampa, Fla. that allowed its member NFL teams access to a large number of centralized draft prospects. Prior to that, teams were forced to hold individual meetings with players, a costly and inefficient process. That first camp, called the National Invitational Camp (NIC), had 163 participants and focused primarily on medical evaluations instead of skill evaluations. After an inaugural camp in Florida, the NIC was held twice in New Orleans and once in Arizona over the next three years.

During that same span, two additional camps were developed for non-members of National Football Scouting Inc. In 1985, looking to cut cost for medical exams, all 28 NFL teams agreed to partake in the NIC, which was permanently moved to Indianapolis in 1987.

It's not until the 21st Century that the Combine had a television presence. This is partly because media was banned from the event, but things changed when the NFL Network debuted in 2003. With its exclusive access, NFL Network started televising the Combine in 2004. By 2010, the network was airing over 30 hours of Combine coverage.

The NFL has become such a cultural juggernaut that millions of people will tune into its network this week to watch athletes running around in shorts and not actually playing football. That's all a precursor to the draft, which has been pushed back into May this year to generate even more hype. It didn't always used to be this way, but the Combine has become a bona fide event among football fans.

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