I have a friend who does market research. For one reason, over a round of beers one night, he started telling me about the different types of customers. Even as I tried to distract myself from his mini-lecture by trying to pretend that I was interested in whatever was on TV, I did hear him list the five main customer types: Loyal Customers, Discount Customers, Impulse Customers, Need-based Customers, and Wandering Customers. I have no idea how I've remembered that, and after today, I highly doubt that I'll ever need to recite different types of customers there are.
For the National Football League, I'm their top customer type, The Loyal Customer. A season-ticket subscriber for one of their franchises. A annual consumer of their Sunday Ticket and Red Zone products. A devotee who spends immensely large swaths of time watching the sport, reading about the sport, using it for possible financial gain, buying apparel, and ultimately, talking about the sport for a living. The NFL hooked me at a very early age, and try as it might to sabotage the relationship we have with one another, the league has me for life.
For about 44 weeks a year.
The other eight weeks are mind-numbing. A few interesting free agency acquisitions and defections aside, very little of actual substance actually happens. Instead, we're served up plentiful, needless helpings of "smokescreens" (preferable to "fake news," I guess), draft speculation, pointless analysis, mock drafting, and yes, things like three-cone drills.
The NFL held its annual Scouting Combine this weekend, or maybe it's still going on. I really don't know. Anyway, I barely paid attention, only failing to avoid it's coverage when the place I had lunch at on Saturday had one of its TVs tuned to the NFL's coverage from Indy. For about 90 seconds, I watched as three guys sitting at a desk grimly broke down some prospect's poor performance in whatever the shuttle run is. They discussed this poor guy's now-doomed pro football hopes with a seriousness usually shown when the topic is North Korea nuclear capabilities. If you didn't know better, you'd think something important was actually happening.
Which, of course, it wasn't.
The combine is, of course, important. At least to NFL teams because the lifeblood of every franchise is the draft, and combine is one evaluation tool that teams use to - ideally - make good, informed decisions during the draft.
I like the NFL Draft. I mean, philosophically, I'm actually opposed to sports leagues having drafts because of how they inherently reward failure, and because I don't think that the best and brightest coming out of college in a certain field should work for the shittiest companies, but as an event itself, yeah, the draft is cool. The draft is something of substance. Things actually happen. We have something concrete. Teams are affected. Dreams are realized. Sometimes, there's actually some drama.
During the weeks leading up to the draft, there are none of those things (OK, aside from free agency maneuvers that affect the draft).We are have just begun 2017's pre-draft process, and here's what we know about the Bengals right now....
In the first round, they could draft a defensive end, but they may also take a running back. They could look a wide receiver, but they might also need to take a defensive back. (I'm a proponent of both getting the best pass rusher possible, and fixing the running game as early in the draft as they can, for what it's worth, which is nothing) They may add additional picks by trading AJ McCarron, but they could hold on to their backup quarterback, but maybe they will trade him, since New England has decided to not trade their backup quarterback, which the Patriots still might if offered the right price. Oh, and there were three-cone drills. Lots and lots of three-cone drills.
Everything can still happen, because nothing has happened. Nor will it for weeks.
Except that some things will happen. Teams could pick this guy, unless they pick that guy. Or they could make a trade and take another guy. One team needs this, until they decide that they need that. This player may be taken early, unless something happens, which, undoubtedly, it will. And there will be smokescreens. Plus some mock drafts. Gotta have them.
Oh, and more cone drills.
So why am I bringing this up? Is it because without Marvin Lewis' clock management to wail away at right now, I need some low-hanging fruit? Have I been so overflowing with warm and fuzzy thoughts (and I do have them about the Bengals' chances in 2017) that I needed a hate-post?
I bring this up because I like to needle my man James Rapien, who on our show and on his blog, enjoys talking and writing about the draft, and all the non-news leading up to it. Which is fine, because he's passionate about that stuff and we have enough people talking and writing about football that have long since lost their passion for the sport. Anyway, James was boring me on Monday's show with his breakdown of some player's (Dalvin Cook) three-cone drill performance and how it portended inevitable NFL failure or something like that. Honestly, I don't remember the specifics, he started to lose me at three-cone drill.
Anyway, me being the guy who likes to A) make fun of the seriousness with which people take the combine and B) make fun of people who like to pretend that the draft is an exact science and C) make fun of James, I sent this poll out via Twitter...
Now mind you, I didn't ask if you cared if your favorite NFL team cares about the three-cone drill, I asked if you cared about the three-cone drill, which as the results have shown, you probably don't. Hell, if you're like me, you thought a three-cone drill involved something with chocolate chips in it.
I got some pushback. One guy told me that he was glad that I don't work in an NFL front office, and given how crappy the hours and levels of job security are for people working in pro football personnel departments, so am I. Another guy sent me an email informing me that the "three-come drill" was important, and honestly, if a three-come drill was a part of the scouting process, I'd be interested in the results, even if I wasn't interesting in watching the actual execution of the drills.
(And FWIW, I asked an NFL assistant who was at the combine for his thoughts on the three-cone drill. His assessment: "shows change of direction speed and acceleration out of big cuts. Probably a better measuring stick than the 40, but like most of this shit, mostly a waste of time." I did not ask about the three-come drill.)
And I got this...
My responses were....Yes, I care about football.. Yes, I care about the draft. And no, I absolutely do not care about projecting NFL careers because I'm not qualified to do that and I don't like pretending that I am.
I don't know Joe personally. I do know his work, which has appeared on a number of different places on the internet and beyond. He's smart, detailed, and thorough in his analysis. He can break down things in nuanced ways that most of us cannot, and honestly, he's the kind of person we should get on the air more often in an effort to have more, in-depth opinions on things that do matter to large chunks of our audience. If, you know, he doesn't take me or whatever you want to call what I do on the air too seriously
But I hate what his question (to me, at least) insinuates: That if you just can't work up the interest in something as un-entertaining and limited as the combine, that if you don't crave every single detail of why a player may or may not make it or why a team may or may not choose said player, then you're simply an uneducated, uncouth, lout that's not qualified to even possess a football-related emotion, much less a reasonably informed opinion.
Maybe that's not where Joe was coming from. In fact, I'll bet it wasn't. But for reasons I can't explain, there's tendency by some of the harder-core fans of every sports to look down their noses at those of us who don't (or can't) consume every single nugget of information, or who'd rather sift through facts and substance rather than speculation, or who would rather form opinions on things more substantive than a three-cone drill.
And I like hard-core, geeky football stuff. NFL Matchup on ESPN - that show where Merrill Hoge and his dopey-looking big tie-knots breaks down game film is exceptional. The work done by people like Andy Benoit of MMQB, the folks at Pro Football Focus (which I subscribe to), and Football Outsiders is incredibly helpful in education and informing interested fans. There are dozens of smart, interesting footballheads on Twitter whose feed are helpful in coloring in details and forming good, informed opinions.
When something in the NFL actually happens, I run to find their work that reacts to it.
But I'm just not interested in everything. Not just in the NFL, but in all sports. I love UC football and basketball, but I spend little time tracking potential recruits. I love the Reds, but I have very little working knowledge of the players toiling in the lowest depths of their farm system. I love the Bengals, and I care deeply about who they draft, what kind of players they obtain, and how they can help the team. And when we know those things, I'll be all over it. Personally and professionally.
(And for the purposes of what I do for a living, I know who to get on to talk about all of those things, when they're important).
Until we do, though, the NFL - for the most part - loses me.
Which is why I tune out the Combine. It's why I ignore most - not all - mock drafts. It's why most (not all) draft news fails to move me. It's why I laugh when I hear someone trying to talk so authoritatively about draft prospects when the most qualified NFL decision-makers get it wrong far too often. (There should be more laughter about the minutiae of sports, because geez, they're sports.)
If all of that that makes me less of a fan, so be it.
Even if I'm just as much of a fan as the guy who actually knows what a three-cone drill is.