AT THE NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in 2000, Michigan State wide receiver Plaxico Burress and I sat down to lunch in the restaurant of the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza, where all the players were staying. The interview lasted about two hours. When it was over, Burress, who would be a first-round pick, walked out into a mostly empty lobby. Reporters in attendance: about 15.
At the 2013 combine in Indy the media were no longer allowed in the players' hotel, so a huge lounge at Lucas Oil Stadium was turned into a pressroom. Sometimes more than 400 reporters and camera people filled the space. After USC quarterback Matt Barkley walked out one afternoon, 15 or 20 reporters trailed him, trying to squeeze in one last question. It looked like a pack of paparazzi chasing Lindsay Lohan outside a bar in West Hollywood ... for a fourth-round draft choice, as it turned out. Credentialed media at February's combine: 841.
Interest in the NFL is going up and up—but so is the competition for access. Sounds like a great time to launch a pro-football-centered website promising an insider's insight, huh? Actually, I believe it is, which is why I'm expanding Monday Morning Quarterback, a column I began writing in 1997 for SI.com, into The MMQB, a new stand-alone site under the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED umbrella.
I believe there's room for a thinking fan's site that emphasizes imagination, expertise and analysis, without all the blah locker room quotes that fill space but don't enhance an understanding of what's really going on. Log on to TheMMQB.com this week and you'll find SI-quality storytelling—buttressed, significantly, by video—all with a massive presence on social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus. If, by the end of the season you haven't seen a new day in NFL coverage, then I will have failed.
TheMMQB.com aims to show the new, tell the new, write the new. One of the most riveting stories I've read in a while will be featured on the site this week: What is it like to be cut by an NFL team? Austen Lane, a fourth-year defensive end out of Murray State, wrote it while the wounds were still fresh from his June 13 whacking by Jaguars general manager David Caldwell. (Lane got picked up a day later by the Chiefs.) He describes walking into Caldwell's office and seeing the young G.M.'s face.
I've seen Walmart greeters that have worked a double shift with happier looks on their face. "Austen," the general manager says, looking me in the eyes. "We are releasing you." Cue numbness. A verbal lobotomy. That's what the words We are releasing you feel like. I just sit, nodding my head like a human vegetable, saying nothing. Some sentences seep into my consciousness.
"You're a great player."
"We just can't see you fitting the system."
"You'll get a shot on another team."
The rest ... gibberish.