The NFL intelligentsia, equipped with stopwatches and self-assured expertise -- among them oddfellows with belly fat obscuring their belt buckles -- has been judging the cream of America’s student-athletes for several days.
An annual event of considerable importance, it is called the NFL combine – a rare form of capitalistic socialism. Prospective professional football players, soon to depart their universities, dash and sweat and lift weights and endure psychological tests for NFL general managers and scouts in Indianapolis. The athletes speak platitudes for these wizards -- plus for astute analysts from sports journalism.
A few of these chosen athletes someday will actually grace Super Bowls.
Thus, NFL teams such as the Lions load up on information that is designed to help them draft this year’s rookies two months from now.
And the most precious of these young, aspiring pros are the quarterbacks -- around whom the sport flourishes.
Via such scientific methods, Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, as well as Matthew Stafford, were selected first off the board in their coming-out years. They were prized picks -- and Manning and Newton became dueling protagonists in the recent Super Bowl.
Alas, science quite often betrays wizards with their supposedly keen judgment of young athletes.
Still fresh in memory is the case of Ryan Leaf. He himself was a college prize -- second off the board after Peyton Manning in 1998. Leaf turned out to be a bum. A bum as a pro quarterback for the Chargers. A bum with character flaws that sent him to prison.
Two years later, the NFL teams went through five rounds of the draft and deep into the sixth without hitting the prize. The draft had turned into a yawn-fest by then. The Patriots, arousing no envy, in a search for a cannon-fodder quarterback to fill a role in training camp selected a quarterback.
It was then, after 198 players had been drafted, that the Patriots selected Tom Brady, from Michigan.
Bill Belichick, coach of the Patriots, has been regarded for years as the top wizard among NFL intelligentsia. He is adept at this science of drafting top athletes.
The enduring mystery is: How come Belichick spent five fruitless go-arounds of the draft in 2000, yet is characterized as prescient and extremely intelligent for discovering Brady?
While Leaf languished as a pro quarterback with the Chargers and other NFL clubs, and turned to burglary, Brady won four Super Bowls and started two others for Belichick.
The NFL drafting of Brady is a classic case of the NFL’s annual game of attempting to pin the tail on the donkey. Not true science at the combine and draft -- not at all -- but a children’s ritual at birthday parties of spinning the guests into dizziness, then sending the kids off to stick pins into a pictured donkey’s hindquarters.
This is the very way JaMarcus Russell and Jeff George and Tim Couch were picked first off the board in drafts, once upon a time. And Joe Montana was not picked by Bill Walsh -- the 49ers’ supposed coaching genius -- until the end of the third round in 1979.
All of this background leads to the mystery as to which general manager among the intelligentsia will deign to select Connor Cook in 2016.
Cook -- out of Michigan State -- is this year’s human football at the combine / draft and in the multitude of mock-draft guesses.
This is a young man who led Michigan State to two Big Ten championships.
Plus a Rose Bowl with a comeback 24-20 victory over Stanford with a winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
Plus a Cotton Bowl, after his team was 20 points behind, with three touchdowns in the fourth quarter for a 42-41 victory over Baylor.
But Cook’s leadership qualities are being doubted by the NFL combine intelligentsia and assorted analysts from the sports media.
For some reason, Cook failed to be elected one of the Spartans’ team captains before his senior season. Obviously, a lack of leadership evident to all those who once believed that Brady lacked championship instincts and talent.
Cook was dragged before the sports media when the combine started the other day. He spoke about being targeted with misconceptions.
“That I’m a cocky football player, arrogant, stuff like that,” Cook told the mob, as quoted by The Detroit News’ Matt Charboneau, “and it couldn’t be further from the truth. That’s why I’m looking forward to sitting down with these teams and letting them find out who the real Connor Cook is.
“I’m a nice, humble, hard-working kid.”
I have no gauge to measure Cook’s leadership traits. But you don’t need membership in the intelligentsia to recognize a winner.
A winner -- sort of like Tom Brady, not so very long ago.
Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sports writer.