It's Wednesday, and I'm standing in the middle of Lucas Oil Field, the cathedral-esque home of the Indianapolis Colts. In the coming days, hundreds of pro football prospects will descend upon downtown Indy for the NFL Combine, a series of tests, drills and interviews that will ultimately decide their professional futures, but today is my opportunity to try my hand (or should I say feet) at the most polarizing test of the upcoming weekend.
I'm here to run the 40-Yard Dash, the be-all, end-all test of the Combine, and I look ridiculous. I'm outfitted in gold cleats, socks that stop just below my knees, shorts and a loose fitting t-shirt with my last name on the back and the number "85" on the front. Today I've been branded as an offensive lineman, which will prove to be a cruel foreshadowing of my 40 time. I had the option of wearing a much tighter compression shirt, but the thought of turning my stomach into a bulging orb as I sprint in front of 30-plus people was not enticing. Loose shirt it is.
Arizona Cardinals cornerback and All-Pro Patrick Peterson, who ran a 4.34 at his Combine testing, is here too, offering advice.
"Don't have your feet so far apart at the start," Peterson said. "Imagine a sprinter. Don't pop up too fast. Keep your eyes locked beyond the finish line."
That's great stuff, Pete. Really it is. Unfortunately, I forgot everything you said by the time I stride up to the starting line.
I always imagined that my mind would go blank as soon as I crouched down in preparation for take off. But as I sped down the freshly painted sideline, my mind was cluttered with sad, self-deprecating thoughts.
"I'm the slowest human being to ever run this."
"What's that guy off to the right laughing about? It's my pale legs. It's got to be."
"40-Yard Dash? More like 'Longest Run of My Life,' amirite?"
"HOW HAVE I NOT FINISHED YET????"
All of this ran through my head in the time it took me to stumble to the finish line—without any coach, scout or general manager watching my every stride.
With the NFL Network broadcasting the entire Combine live, the lens is sharper than ever on the 20-somethings who will run these same 40 yards in the coming days. You can't go ten minutes in Indianapolis without hearing someone say that the NFL Combine is the "biggest job interview of these guys' lives," which despite being horribly cliché also contains a modicum of truth. The 40 is like the SATs, a singular event that all of a sudden takes precedence over everything you've done up to that point. And much like the SAT, the 40-Yard Dash is hard.
I felt unreasonably slow coming out of my start. My legs felt like they were sloshing through a tub of marmalade, and by the time I picked up any semblance of speed, it seemed like I'd been running for 10 seconds. Those first 10 yards are huge, and I ran through them as if a gust of wind were blowing me backwards.
In the end, I ran a 5.9, which is slower than any NFL player ever, but faster than Rich Eisen, so take that, suits at NFL Network! It felt like my time should have been even slower, so in that sense, my 40 time was a win. In another sense, I'm a fairly active, "used to play sports in high school" 26-year-old male. I expected to perform better.
Linemen are out here running sub-5.5 40s these days, which is a true measure of how freakishly athletic football players are in 2015. Soon, linemen running sub-5-second times will be the norm, and those left running 5-second 40s will watch their draft stock fall like the temperature in Cleveland.
Fortunately, the stakes for me weren't that high. I'm a 5.9 guy, and somewhat proud of it.
Read about the actual stars of the 2015 NFL Draft:
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock