The scout had good reason to be tired. He had been on the road for almost four months. He had called on almost 50 colleges. He had "visited"—which is the way he described it—with a couple of hundred coaches, and he had seen, by his own reckoning, about 35 miles of football film, some of it of such murky quality that the action seemed to be going on in the depths of a fishpond. He stretched his legs out in front of him. What was going to be the best thing, he said, was getting into a different set of clothes, and especially putting the attach� case with all its scouting paraphernalia in the back of the closet where perhaps he could forget about it.
He began talking about the trademarks of his profession—the cowboy boots, which were sensible because they could be buffed up a bit and worn in a motel breakfast room and yet were fine for standing along the sidelines of a practice field in bad weather. Most of them come from Tony Lama's in El Paso, the scout said, because the proprietor takes as much as 60% off the price of boots if a scout visits with him and talks football. Leather, that was the other sartorial telltale—soft buckskin jackets, and suede, and often stiff new leather pants that creaked when the scout walked through the motel parking lot to his car. At the practice field he often wore a stopwatch hanging on a lanyard around his neck. That marked him, unless he was a track coach dawdling on his way to practice. A scout, that magic word; the players on the field would catch sight of him on the sidelines, the helmets turning just briefly. "They really begin to perform," the scout said. "I'm surprised that coaches don't use dummy scouts—just stick some cowboy boots, a buckskin jacket and a stopwatch on a janitor and set him out there on the sidelines and point at him. 'Look, everybody, look there, the guy from the Rams!' You'd have yourself some mighty fine practices. Of course, a kid will never let on that he knows a scout's there. But he'll miss a pass in practice, and you can tell by the way he stomps around and looks shocked that he is trying to tell you that it was only an act of God that he missed it. But he knows we know."
The scout was asked about the tools of his trade. "Well, in that attach� case you'll find a stopwatch. It's for timing pro prospects in the 40-yard sprints when the colleges have what's called Pro Day in the spring. Scouts put such stock in a guy's speed over the 40 that they'd time a prospect down an airplane aisle just to get a figure written on the performance sheet. And we use the stopwatch for checking the hang-time of punts, how fast a quarterback drops back and how quickly a center can get the ball to his punter." The scout laughed. "We've got to keep our stopwatch fingers in shape," he said. "Not too many beers, because you've got to time that center's snap to an accuracy of a tenth of a second. He's doing O.K. if he gets it back to the kicker in seven-tenths of a second, but he's on the border if it's nine-tenths.
"Now let's see. There's always a tape measure. We are always measuring people. Very important. I carry an architect's plastic drafting angle to use against the wall and get the kid's height exactly right when he's standing up there, because a lot of them will strain to get an extra millimeter or so, tilting their noses back, thinking that's going to heft them up a bit. In fact, it does just the opposite. You have to watch their feet, making sure they don't curl their toes under to push themselves up. Harley Sewell, the old Detroit Lion offensive guard who scouts for the Rams, told me that he always calls out, 'O.K., let's curl those toes up, son.' That stops 'em. But most kids these days are so damn big that you need to climb a ladder to measure them.
"Let's see. Some of us carry the Otis Self-Administering Test, which is a 20-minute exam that you can give a player. It will tell you for sure if you suspect he is an exceedingly slow learner, so that you can prepare for that when he turns up at your training camp and does the 40 in 4.9 and can truly run with the football but can't figure out what he's being told in the huddle.
"Now what else?" The scout pinched the bridge of his nose. "Usually, a scout has a pair of binoculars in his kit, seven power and never the opera type—not correct for scouting along the sidelines. Doesn't look right wearing all that suede and buckskin to be holding a li'l bitty opera glass and looking at some guy who weighs 270 pounds. A tape recorder. Legal pads. Pencils. Sometimes a pocket splicer for patching films. Eye drops. A roll of Scotch tape. That's for splicing broken film if you don't have a splicer—a junior-high splice, some scouts call it, and others, for reasons no one knows, call it an Al Davis splice, after the general manager of the Oakland Raiders. Whichever, the next scout who borrows that film from the athletic department will hear the splice rattle and chatter briefly in the machine before the film breaks, and the guy, with a good bit of cussing, reaches for his roll of tape.
"Then, of course, you carry a projector, a 16mm. motion-picture projector with the football club's decal on the carrying case so that when you walk through a motel lobby people will know that you're in football, not the blue-movie business. The projector is probably the most important device the scout has. With it, often in the coaches' conference rooms, but sometimes at the motel, the scout'll look at game films, reels that each college takes from up on the rim of the stadium of every game it plays. Each scout is supposed to see four game films on each prospect, which means that he'll see a player in action well over 100 times, and that's not counting the times that you flip the switch and rerun a play maybe a dozen times to check something out about the kid. And then you see him down on the practice field, maybe in a scrimmage, which is best. You might talk with him, just a few words, or, if he is a senior, you might visit with him, which is more of a commitment. You'll be trying to figure his attitude. And then you visit with his coaches. You have to be careful. Most coaches oversell their players. Obviously, they have a natural affection for them and will recommend someone totally unsuitable for the pros because of a great play the kid made in his junior year that may have saved the coach his job."
The scout grinned. "Sometimes the coach's reputation can get you into trouble. I've always been awed by Bear Bryant of Alabama. If he said, just in passing, that so-and-so could play football, well, I'd be inclined to rate the kid high even if what I was looking at weighed 92 pounds, was five feet tall and kept walking into things.
"So you have to make your own determination. Most scouts look for different things. Roosevelt Brown, who scouts for the Giants, looks for what he calls 'constant competitiveness,' never a guy who plays a quarter and loafs a quarter, but athletes like those Selmon brothers at Oklahoma who stay keyed-up high for an entire game. Attitude is a big thing for some scouts. I can remember Will Walls—one of the great oldtime scouts, the Red Grange of scouts some people call him—telling me about Duane Thomas. He saw him for the first time in a spring alumni game at West Texas State. Thomas carried the ball eight times, four for touchdowns, for a total of 210 yards. And yet his attitude was pitiful, wasn't it? Walls could never figure what had happened—maybe somebody promised Thomas something and had not given it to him.
"I myself put a tremendous premium on toughness," the scout said. "Perhaps more than I should, because an emphasis like that might penalize players who could go on to great things. Jimmy Orr, for example. He may have been different in college, but when I saw him he certainly wasn't anyone you would ascribe toughness to—a pussycat—and yet he was one of the best pass-catchers the Colts ever had."