INDIANAPOLIS – When the NFL Combine relocated to Indianapolis in the late 1980s, there were six reporters who covered the event.
Respected NFL writers Len Pasquarelli, Don Pierson, Rick Gosselin and Clark Judge were among scribes on hand. Seeing the potential to fill a notebook, they vowed not to share the secret of the combine with others.
It leaked eventually, but not from them.
Last year, the NFL credentialed approximately 750 reporters for the combine and this year the total will set the record for a second straight year. It will go north of 800 people.
The NFL Network will broadcast the event for the ninth straight year, using 24 analysts or hosts and 25 cameras to produce 60 hours of programming.
Last year, an estimated 6.5 million viewers tuned to the Combine, a total almost twice the 3.7 million from 2007.
What used to be a smaller event held solely for evaluation has morphed into a business initiative.
Last year, sponsors and fans were brought into Lucas Oil Stadium to view a day of the action. That is being expanded to two days this year.
Merging old and new has been a fluid process for the NFL in the past few years, and every event has seen the movement.
“There was initially resistance from the old-school purists,” said Ray Anderson, NFL executive vice president of football operations to NFL.com. “But as time moved on, they could see real balance between what they needed football-wise and the entertainment side. Those guys matured in their thinking.
“That balance -- the revenue, fan access, fan engagement -- is just as important to the owners and the league as getting the football stuff the coaches and GMs have always gotten. The business component is way beyond the coaches and GMs wanting their sanctuary.”
This year, viewers will see Michael Irvin on the field with draft-eligible receivers. Ditto Marshall Faulk with running backs, Willie McGinest with defensive linemen and Deion Sanders with defensive backs.
Intrusive? No. Entertainment? Yes.
Indianapolis itself has proven to be a location reached fairly by 31 other teams. The medical capabilities, perhaps the most important component of the combine, are easy, too.
National Football Scouting president Jeff Foster, in his eighth year running the event, estimated to NFL.com that 350 MRIs were done last year over four days by IU Health. The medical entity has been a combine partner for 28 years.
At age 40, Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson, has spent 14 years in NFL personnel circles and has grown in the business on the same parallel path as the combine’s growth.
Grigson is scheduled to address Combine media on Thursday for 15 minutes. Making general managers and head coaches available to the crowing media throng has been a league practice for about 10 years.
Grigson bridges the old and new methods of league initiatives.
“I was pretty much brought up in this business by people that were definitely “old school” and I do feel I can tap into that mindset because that’s what I know and how I was taught, but I am also very open to innovative ideas and suggestions,” said Grigson. “In regards to the media attention, I don’t particularly enjoy being on stage after all my years being behind the scenes, but I’m getting more and more used to it.
“I feel I have an outgoing side to me in terms of the media, and I realize how important it is to try and answer every question they throw my way. At the same time, there are certain aspects of the process and this team that I obviously have to be guarded about.”