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Stories from Combines Past from an NFL scout

Long time NFL scout, Greg Gabriel, shares some of his stories from the early days of the NFL Combine.

1995 NFL Scouting Combine Set Number: X47822 TK2 R5 F7

It's still almost three months before the annual Scouting Combine begins in Indianapolis, but for some reason, I was thinking about early Combines and how disorganized they were as compared to today. The National Football League Scouting Combine as we know it today began in January 1985. That first Combine was at Arizona State, and it was a lot smaller than the ones we see today, and the number of NFL participants wasn't close to how many people we see in Indianapolis now. I was part of the first 30 Combines, so I have seen it grow and become what it currently is.

The second Combine was held in New Orleans following Super Bowl XX, and though it was the first indoor Combine, it still couldn't be compared to what we see today. One of the big changes is just the organization of the event. The first couple of Combines were run by the late Harry Buffington, who was the Director of National Scouting. After Harry stepped down from National Scouting, Duke Babb took over. Harry and Duke were very good people, but organization was not their strong point. When current Combine Director Jeff Foster took over the event, changes were made so that it is the event we see today on the NFL Network.

I was working for the New York Giants during those early Combines, and I remember at the New Orleans event, many coaches and scouts were standing around the field watching the drills. Some coaches even grabbed folding chairs that say watching just a few feet from the drills. During the linebacker's workout, Giants Coach Bill Parcells asked me to grab a Florida State player and bring him over to him so that he could talk for a few minutes to the player (no, I don't remember the player's name). That may have been the first Combine interview, as the scheduled 15-minute interviews we see today did not exist back in the early days of the Combine.

It wasn't until, if I remember correctly, the mid-1990s that the current 60 15-minute interviews even came about. Before that, it was a free-for-all to try and talk to the players.

When the players got to Indy, the first thing they would do was go to this one room and have the Cybex testing done. Scouts would wait outside the room in the hopes of grabbing a player to interview when he got done with the Cybex. Needless to say, with several scouts from different clubs always trying to talk to the same players, arguments would occur, and some almost led to fisticuffs between scouts from various clubs.

Back then, the scouts could police their own problems, and it was decided that we would give each player a "dance card," letting him know when he was supposed to meet with a certain club. For the most part, that worked for a couple of years, but then one club tried to "one up" the others by sliding a piece of paper under the door of a player's room, telling him when he was to meet with a particular club. That "idea" got quickly squashed by the other clubs as the players were told not to meet with the team that was "cheating" (the Kansas City Chiefs).

Needless to say, trying to meet with prospects was getting out of hand, and then Jeff Foster finally came up with the idea of the 15-minute organized interview. What happened was a few weeks before the Combine, each club would submit a list of up to 60 players they wanted to meet with. The Combine staff would then schedule the interviews for the players, and since then, the process has gone very smoothly.

Obviously, a club can't find out much about a player in just 15 minutes, but those "interviews" always seem to be the highlight of the week as some can be very funny. I remember a few that stand out as far as some little parts of the session. One running back, when telling us about growing up in his neighborhood said, "all my friends from when I was a kid are either dead or alive." Another player came into the room and introduced himself to each member of the Bears staff, and when he got to Lovie Smith, Lovie said, "Hi, I'm Lovie Smith." The player just started at Lovie and said, "Lovie Smith, now where have I heard that name before?" Lovie replied, "I'm from Texas," to which the player said, "That's it… Texas." It was hilarious.

In another interview that same year, a player just crouched over in his chair like he got really sick. We all jumped up and asked if he was alright. After about 20 seconds, he lifted his head and said, "I think I just got bit by a scorpion that was in my shoe." Really, a scorpion in Indianapolis in February? I don't think so.

One of the most memorable "interviews" I was involved with was not a scheduled interview. Each evening the interviews would end at about 11:00 PM, so right at 11:00, a guy walked into our room and said, "I know you guys have a QB and aren't going to interview me, but I wanted to talk to you anyway." The player sat and talked to me, offensive coordinator Ron Turner, and a few other coaches for about 45 minutes. To say he was impressive was an understatement. He was the most relaxed and confident player we talked to that year. That player's name was Aaron Rodgers! We had drafted Rex Grossman two years before and were happy with his play, so we weren't in the market for another young quarterback.

If history could only repeat itself.

A signing that we were part of that took place at Indy was when we signed wide receiver Mushin "Moose" Muhammad in 2005. Muhammad was due a rather large roster bonus by his then-team, the Carolina Panthers. Rather than pay him the bonus, the Panthers cut him right at the start of the Combine. Within hours of Moose's release, we had a meeting set up with his agent in Jerry Angelo's Suite. Because he had been released and wasn't a UFA, Muhammed could be signed right away, and signed he was at about 2:00 the following morning. That signing helped get us over the hump, so to speak, and on our way to the Super Bowl following the 2006 season.

I don't really recall any particular workouts that just stood out. When you see 300+ players working out doing the same thing at 30 different Combines, they all run together because that's over 9000 players I've watched at Indy.