Standing in the rain outside the Original Pantry in downtown L.A. last Monday morning, I cast my gaze down Figueroa Street, searching for a Range Rover with spinning rims. As the line inched toward the doorway of one of the city's classic eateries, I could smell the mighty gastronomic options in my near future: steak, pork chops, eggs and buttermilk cakes, a caloric orgy in the making.
UCLA would play in that night's NCAA championship game, but this was a Dodgers crowd -- a soggy Opening Day encounter with the Braves awaited and patrons sported jerseys honoring local heroes past and present, from Robinson to Kent, from Koufax and Valenzuela to Gagne. I was there to talk football with a local collegian who will soon be playing it for a living, but as the other member of my dining party had not yet arrived, I was forced to step aside when an available table opened up.
Half an hour past our appointed meeting time and LenDale White was nowhere to be found.
Eventually, after texting him, leaving a pair of voicemails and chatting with a frustrated and similarly confused assistant from his agent EugeneParker's Indiana office, I gave up on the former USC halfback and headed back to the west side. I was peeved on the drive down the 10, for two reasons:
Having flown down from Northern California to conduct this interview for an upcoming pre-NFL-draft piece in SI, I was officially on the clock. At the previous afternoon's "pro day" at USC, White and I had confirmed our meeting time and place -- and now he was AWOL and unreachable. As awesome as my job can be, getting blown off by a dude nearly half my age is not one of my happiest workplace experiences.
I was predisposed to defend the kid against his growing legion of critics, and now that prospect had become far more difficult.
At pro day, with scores of NFL scouts, general managers and coaches milling about, White had performed just one appointed task, the bench press -- he did 15 225-pound reps, 13 fewer than fellow 'SC halfback Reggie Bush and only one more than punter Tom Malone -- before citing a hamstring injury and packing it in for the day. Earlier, he had weighed in at 244 pounds, six more than at February's scouting combine when, as one witness told me, "He took off his shirt and all these NFL people in the room just went, 'Eeeeeh.'"
At pro day's end, as one scout would later describe it to me, White "got behind the wheel of his Range Rover, got those rims spinning and took off. He looked like a guy who just didn't have a clue. I'm telling you, the kid might have cost himself millions of dollars today."