9 Reasons to Care About the NFL Combine

This month, every pro-football big shot and real-life Jerry Maguire comes to town to evaluate this year’s NFL draft prospects. Here’s why you should care.

The NFL Scouting Combine has grown from a largely ignored process into a global multimedia event. In its 29th consecutive year in Indianapolis, the function draws roughly 5,000 visitors downtown. Most of them represent the 32 NFL teams, including general managers, coaches, scouts, and medical staff. Player participation is capped at 335.    

Media coverage has more than doubled in the past decade. Chris Gahl of Visit Indy projects the economic impact at $9 million this year. “But moreover,” he says, “there’s a marketing value in terms of having national media in your city.” The NFL Network’s programming has grown from six hours in 2004 to more than 30. Must-see TV: popular host Rich Eisen running the 40-yard dash in a suit.

Rub elbows with NFL royalty. GMs and coaches typically work from 8 a.m. until the last interviews wrap at 11:30 p.m., so there isn’t much time for socializing beyond a late dinner. Hoping to bump into the likes of John Elway, Pete Carroll, or Sports Illustrated NFL guru Peter King? Follow the scent of red meat, dark leather, and tall beverages, which means traditional spots such as St. Elmo, Harry & Izzy’s, or Nicky Blaine’s. You might see coaching brothers Rex and Rob Ryan at Steak ‘n Shake at 2 a.m.

Got Colts questions? SI’s King always hosts a Tweetup—a chance totalk football with Twitter readers in person. It’s usually at Sun King. Follow @SI_PeterKing for the date and location.

The action on the field is nothing compared to what happens in the bars. Word is that the sports media has cleaned up its act since the advent of camera phones, but at some of the swankier spots downtown, the magnums of champagne still flow. Sounds like a great time to score a free drink.

Autograph-seekers camp out in the Convention Center. The visiting celebs tend to walk over the skybridge from the Crowne Plaza toward the stadium. Stake out a spot inside the front door of the Convention Center at the intersection of Capitol Avenue and Georgia Street.

It’s a big week for the Jerry Maguires. Along with mega-agents such as Drew Rosenhaus, Tom Condon, and Ben Dogra, workaday agents like Indy-based Buddy Baker are hustling to sign clients. They’re the ones followed by a posse of linebackers wearing sweats and Beats headphones.

The Combine makes our doctors better. For more than 20 years, heart specialists at IU Health Methodist have screened the athletes for risky undetected cardiovascular issues and developed faster techniques for performing and analyzing EKGs and other tests (because no player can report to Lucas Oil Stadium without the heart screening). The process has allowed IU Health and the NFL to collect heart data on some 1,000 elite athletes and study how to prevent sudden cardiac arrest in sports.

Super fans get to watch. The NFL has invited a select group of enthusiasts to the Combine since 2012. Interested fans must apply online (1iota.com) with a short essay stating their case. The league typically selects 300 fans via this method, and 30 more through team-sponsored fantasy leagues for season-ticket holders. The fans are asked to keep noise to a minimum and cell phones off, so there’s no cheering or tweeting. Kind of like the fourth quarter of a Colts–Patriots game.