Coming soon to an NFL theater near you: The Mike Mamula Mystery!
At 6'5" and 252 pounds, Mamula, a defensive end from Boston College, doesn't look as strong as the best offensive lineman in Saturday's NFL draft, but he is. As a big man with long legs, he doesn't look quicker or more agile than most wide receivers, but he is. And he certainly doesn't look like he's faster than some of the draft's top cornerback prospects in the 40-yard dash, but he is.
NFL scouts and front office personnel have been scratching their heads in bewilderment over the 21-year-old Mamula since early February, when he put on a show at the league's annual scouting combine in Indianapolis, lifting, jumping and sprinting his way from draft obscurity to the first round. "I haven't seen anything like that by any player at this man's position at the combine," says Buffalo Bill director of player personnel Dwight Adams. "He blew them away. If he'd have done anything more, they'd have had to put a cape on his shoulders."
"He's a rare athlete, the kind who comes along once every five or 10 years," adds first-year Philadelphia Eagle coach Ray Rhodes, whose team may try to move up in the draft to get Mamula (page 66). "I judge players on production, and he could be the most productive player in the draft this year."
The mystery, though, is, how did Mamula—this "real genetic freak," as Tampa Bay Buccaneer personnel man Jerry Angelo calls him—do it? How did a guy who wasn't even the big man on his own college campus ace the biggest test he ever took?
"Don't ask me," says Mike's father, Milton, a slim, six-foot maintenance and delivery man for the school system in Lackawanna, N.Y., just south of Buffalo. "I played some track and football in high school but never did much. I played end—end of the bench."
"I don't know either," says his mother, 5'5" Maryanne, sitting in the dining room of the family's 90-year-old wood-frame house while Mike, home from college for the weekend, lies snoozing on the living room couch, 10 feet away. "I was never an athlete. I can walk and chew gum, but that's about it."
"Looking at them," says Mike's sister, Nickole, nodding toward their parents, "you'd never figure someone like him could come out."
Last January, when Mamula told the NFL he was coming out of college a year early, not that many teams had a scouting report on him. The combine, therefore, became the biggest event of his young life. On the eve of the big show Mamula recalls thinking that it was life or death for him.
The combine has become an overrated part of scouting. Too often combine stars have gone bust in the NFL. Remember cornerback Bruce Pickens, taken third overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 1991, or linebacker Huey Richardson, taken 15th by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1991? With regret, the general managers of the Falcons and the Steelers do. Most teams have learned how dangerous a workout phenom is if he doesn't have the game tapes to back up his show at the combine. That's the difference with Mamula. In the two months since the combine, teams have studied video of his Boston College career. Most of them also sent representatives to another impressive workout by Mamula at BC in early April. "What we've learned since the combine," says Cleveland Brown personnel director Mike Lombardi, "is that he plays as well as or better than he works out."