Peter King is on vacation until July 15, and he lined up some guest writers to fill his Monday spot on Football Morning in America. Today, it’s Chris Ballard, general manager of the Indianapolis Colts.
Previous guest columns: Fred Gaudelli (June 3) | Nick Hardwick (June 10)| Pro Football Focus (June 17) | Rich Eisen (June 24) | Idaho Hugh (July 1)
By Chris Ballard
INDIANAPOLIS — I get asked all the time what it’s like to be the general manager of the Colts throughout the draft process, and what it’s like inside the room on draft night. The journey is a grind. It can be exhausting at times. But the hard work and dedication only confirms our confidence in the players we select during the draft.
No two teams in the NFL draft alike. No two teams scout the same way, or use exact traits and characteristics when they look for players. Working for three organizations—Chicago, Kansas City and Indianapolis—and working as an area scout, a pro scouting director, a player personnel director and a director of football operations before taking the GM job here, I’ve seen how all 32 teams evaluate and draft. In two decades in the scouting business, I’ve seen how mentors like former Bears GM Jerry Angelo did it, how my Chiefs bosses Andy Reid and John Dorsey do it, and how other friends and competitors at other teams do it.
You might be surprised in our process that there’s a former Green Beret involved; his unique interviewing techniques help us strip away the agent-speak and happy talk that surround so many players in the draft process. You might be surprised that we’ve borrowed something from the brain trust at Pixar called “The Room of Candor,” so honesty is the only policy in the draft discussions.
I never want to look back at any decision we’ve made and think we didn’t have the real, unvarnished facts on the table when we’ve made these important choices.
Scouting in the NFL
The real currency of the draft—and any player acquisition—is scouting, medical, character and analytical information. We meet with potential prospects, sometimes on multiple occasions, and conduct extensive research. We do this to make sure we are making smart picks that will be good fits for the Colts. Most importantly, we have to be more accurate than 31 other teams drafting that day.
When Frank Reich and I sat down for his coaching interview in February 2018, we spent a lot of time talking about what type of players we wanted in the locker room. We were in lock step in our philosophies on the makeup of the team. We define football character as a player’s work ethic, passion for the game, football intelligence, competitive nature, and teamness. If any of these areas are weak, the chances of the player busting and not fitting in our locker room becomes greater. An NFL season is long and hard. The character of each individual player and the entire team shows up, either good or bad, during the hard times. It is difficult to get through a rough stretch if your players don’t have mental toughness.
We go the extra mile to delve into players and see how they’ll fit. You are telling the locker room every time you draft a player, “this is what we stand for.” If you bring in someone with a poor work ethic, or someone who is selfish, or someone who is unwilling to put in the work, you’re telling the locker room that that’s OK. Jerry Angelo used to say all the time that the talent of a player will tell you his ceiling, but his football character determines his floor. It’s critical to get that right, so we know the floor.
INSIDE THE DRAFT PROCESS
Let’s take our first pick this year, Temple cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, and examine the process of how we reached our final decision, from the initial scouting report to draft day.
What traits make up a Colts cornerback? Is it possible to pick a Colts cornerback out of a crowd? The answer is yes, and there are a few things we look for. Ya-Sin had them all:
• Size and length. Ya-Sin is 5-foot-11 with 32-inch arms, which are considered long for a cornerback.
• Instincts and ball skills. Yup.
• Toughness. It’s impossible to play our scheme if you’re not tough. Frank Reich’s definition of toughness: A relentless pursuit to get better every day; an obsession to finish. Ya-Sin is a two-time state champion high school wrestler, fitting this definition to a T.
Some of these traits might seem generic, and, yes, you can find most of these qualities if you look hard enough. However, each player is not always drawn up that way. I think of Colts cornerback Kenny Moore as an example. At 5-foot-9 he didn’t pass our height standard for a cornerback. But his long arms (32 1/8 inches) allowed him to play with more length, and he passed the test. That’s something scouts brought to our attention when we acquired him before the 2017 season. Moore has since become a key player on our defense.
Our scouts were aware of Ya-Sin from his time at Presbyterian in South Carolina, but not as a top prospect. When he transferred to Temple, he was awarded a single-digit jersey within a few weeks and our Northeast Area Scout Mike Derice took notice. (A single digit jersey at Temple signifies a player as one of the toughest on the team. Even more impressive, the single-digit jerseys are voted on by the teammates.)
Ya-Sin looked like a Colt, and Derice said Ya-Sin had the right makeup to ascend within the NFL. Derice followed his season, watched him play against Buffalo (where he recorded his first interception as an Owl), and used his contacts at the university to get a sense of his character.
Derice’s first scouting report on Ya-Sin said he had great football character and his physicality fit what we needed for a defensive back. At that time, we thought he’d be drafted somewhere in the third round. We marked him with an ascending grade, one to watch hard at the Senior Bowl.
Ed Dodds, our assistant general manager, said we should go “A-Z” on him during the Senior Bowl. Ya-Sin had a standout performance. He was getting better every day, and Derice developed a strong conviction about his belonging on the Colts. We made sure to interview Ya-Sin at length because we put a big emphasis on knowing a player’s character and story. The story leads us to the answers that we’re trying to find out about each guy.
When we interview a player it’s not strictly a “getting to know you” session. We use as much time as we need to get our detailed questions answered. We might visit with that same player during one of our Top 30 visits—NFL rules allow each team to have 30 private visits—to continue to get a better feel for his personal makeup.
When I first took the job in Indianapolis, I wanted to find an expert who could help us get to the core of a player’s football character. We found the perfect person in Brian Decker, a former Green Beret and now our director of player development. He uses a model he developed in the military and applies toward our interview process. He interviews every prospect on our draft board and teaches our scouts specific interviewing techniques.
I didn’t know anything about Decker until I read an ESPN article about his journey in the NFL and the work he was doing on player character assessments to more accurately predict if a player will succeed or fail. I was really intrigued by this topic so I reached out to Decker to get to know him and pick his brain.
At the time I was working in Kansas City, and he was doing some consulting with for the Kansas City Royals. I was impressed right away with his intelligence, vision and humble spirit. He also had an easy way about him that made you want to talk to him. I knew after a few more visits that if I ever had a chance to hire him that I would do it. I can’t sit here and say I knew exactly what his role was going to be, but I did have a strong conviction that Decker would really help us get to the core of a player’s football character, which in turn would help us in our hit rate in the draft. His role has really grown in two years and has become a valuable resource to our coaches, scouts, and players.
I am not going to give away any trade secrets but here are the five questions Decker wants to get the answers to:
• Does this player have a favorable developmental profile?
• Does he have a profile that supports handling pressure and adversity?
• Does he have a good learning and decision-making capacity?
• Is he a character risk and, if so, what can we do to help support him?
• Is he a fit?
THE ROOM OF CANDOR
There are times that I refer to our draft room as “the Room of Candor,” just like they have for film screenings at Pixar Studios. I picked this up in Kansas City while reading Ed Catmull’s book “Creativity, Inc.” and it has followed me to Indianapolis. At Pixar, they meet every few months about their current projects and honestly assess the films they create. They aim to put smart and passionate people in a room with an emphasis on problem solving.
Similarly, in our version, it’s a room for honest conversation, where everyone has a chance to present their case, ask questions, and speak to the abilities of each player.
From our February meetings until draft day, our team pokes holes in the viability of every player. As we enter the draft room, titles get checked at the door. We want everyone in the room to challenge and say what they think. You never know if what you say might spark a different mindset about the player. I promise, this is not easy for scouts. When you have scouted a player for a long period of time and everyone in the room is questioning your work, you have to fight the urge to be defensive. Saying that, it’s a great way to grow and learn because you get to hear other perspectives from the scouts.
What I have found over the years is that the better the discussions are on a player in the room, the more likely we are to get him right. We have some talented evaluators on our staff and also some real personalities:
• Ed Dodds, assistant GM, always has a strong opinion on players and never shies away from confrontation. Even with his strong personality, he has a humbleness to admit when he is too high or low on a player.
• Morocco Brown, our College Scouting Director, at one point was a Pro Scouting Director for the Washington Redskins. He has a 19-year mental library of NFL players and always is up for making accurate comparisons to whom we are watching. Brown might be the best report writer that I have been around. He can paint a picture of what the player can do and what he will be for the Colts in a very clear and concise manner.
• Kevin Rogers, our Pro Scouting Director, has a very similar library to recall players and is an elite evaluator. Dodds calls him “The Sniper” because he usually waits until the room gets a strong conviction on a player and then he “snipes” everyone from the back of the room. He can shoot down the momentum a player has gained with a comparable player from 15 years ago who struggled in the league.
• Both our analytics guys, John Park and George Li, have voices in the room, too. They both offer great insight from an analytic perspective and we challenge the numbers when we don’t like what we are hearing. It’s always entertaining to watch guys get defensive when they are spitting out numbers depicting how a player would struggle.
• Jamie Moore, our tremendous Southeast Area Scout, is passionate about his work and all the players he has scouted. He might take as much ribbing in the room as anyone, but he has a good time with it. What I love about Moore is that he does the work and is not afraid to voice his opinion. An area scout without conviction is just an information gatherer. There is no doubt about Moore’s conviction on players when we are talking and watching one of his.
• Our coaching staff also does a tremendous job working on the draft and are always welcome into our room. They have worked extremely hard to put together profiles on each position and the traits that fit our schemes. When we disagree on a player, we put the tape on and watch it together. The tape always tells the truth and settles disagreements.
THE BLUE CARDS
When we are in draft meetings, we talk about each player’s football character at great length to determine if a player fits our draft board. If a player meets our strict criteria in terms of his football character, he is given a blue card. There might be 10 or 12 blue cards in the entire draft and we want to pick as many of these players for our locker room that we can. Ya-Sin was a blue card.
On draft night, we felt like we would have a chance to move back in the draft and pick up an extra pick that weekend or in a future year. We have a strong belief that the more picks that we can acquire, the better it is for our team in the end. We don’t want to pass up a difference-making player so we are very thorough working through every scenario before we make the decision to move.
Ya-Sin was one of the players we considered taking as our No. 26 pick in the first round before we got a call from the Redskins. We felt like Washington’s 2019 second-round pick and the extra second-round selection in the 2020 draft was a very good offer and would be worth the trade back with the players we still had on the board. What also helped was that our No. 34 pick, acquired from the Jets the previous year, was only eight picks away.
The next day, there were five players we still liked who were available at No. 34, and the draft room was split. Half of the room thought we should trade again and acquire another second and third-round pick, and the other half wanted to stay at No. 34 and pick Ya-Sin.
Ultimately, the decision is on me. However, because of our collaborative process, I made sure I heard everyone’s opinion one more time before we made the selection.
I have been very fortunate to work for two great general managers in my career, Jerry Angelo and John Dorsey, who both believed in having scouts in the room on draft night. They both understood that the scouts worked an entire year and spent a lot of time away from their families to get it right for the organization. I have also been in their shoes and understand what it means to feel like a part of the entire draft process. It is powerful for a scout to be able to speak on draft night in front of ownership and others in the draft room on their feelings and why they think a player can help the Colts win.
The defensive staff and scouts talked through the direction we wanted to go and we debated a couple of players on the board. We had a specific safety we debated hard for weeks and thought he could move to corner. He reminded us a lot of Rashean Mathis when he came out of college. We debated taking him if we moved down. We had a strong conviction about what type of player he could be and he had good football character. Saying that, blue card players are hard to find and there was the chance that we’d lose Ya-Sin if we hesitated and didn’t make the pick.
Matt Eberflus, our defensive coordinator, talked about Ya-Sin’s fit on the Colts. Derice then noted Ya-Sin’s character, grit, toughness, and will to be great. Furthermore, about four days before the draft, I had asked Decker to give me a list of the top players based on football character available in the draft. Ya-Sin was on that list.
The other half of the room—who wanted to trade back—thought we could still get Ya-Sin, but at a lower pick. There’s never a perfect alignment in the room, but once we make a decision, there is no looking back and second-guessing.
Coach Reich and I huddled for a few minutes and we decided we couldn’t afford the chance to lose a blue-card player like Ya-Sin. He fit exactly what we wanted at corner and there was no way we could pass on him at No. 34.
(A quick aside: Reich is tremendous on draft day. He has a lot of faith in our scouting group and allows us to work. He will also give us his opinion and allows our scouts to challenge him. His open mindedness really is special.)
It’s obviously not possible to know for sure if we’ve had a good draft yet. But we do feel 100 percent confident in a player once they’ve made our board. We’re not always right, but when we put in the work, the many man-hours challenging each other in the draft room, getting to the heart of ‘who is this player?’ and a million other questions, combined with the tape and the analysis and getting opinions from the coaches, we can feel validated.
At the end of the day, the players have to earn their place on the team and we as an organization have a responsibility to develop the player. Once they’re with us, we feel we have everything in place to get them to their ceiling as long we’ve got the football character right. Why? Because players who have football character want to get better and can overcome adversity. They never let the ups and downs of this tough league get in the way of their improvements each and every day.
The Power of Sundays10
This will be my 19th year in the NFL, and I consider it a privilege to be a part of this great game. I have been fortunate to work for three tremendous organizations in the Bears, Chiefs and Colts, and I am humbled for the opportunities. The memories with my family and friends will last forever.
The stakes are high as lives are impacted by the results in the win-loss column. But everyone involved understands the journey we signed up for, and I have learned to appreciate and love all of it—both the good and the bad.
There is nothing that can replicate the euphoric feeling after a big win. I tell everyone that it is hard to beat the first 20 minutes after a big win. I say 20 minutes because shortly after any game, our minds quickly flip to the upcoming week and the next opponent. I wish I could sit here and write that the strong emotions from a loss only lasted 20 minutes, but that would be a lie. After a loss, I usually can’t sleep trying to figure out what I did wrong and how we are going to get it fixed.
One aspect of Sundays in the NFL that I really cherish are the people and families I’ve had the privilege of meeting along the way. Their stories have nothing to do with X’s and O’s, but when you look deeply, football is really at the root of these stories. On Sundays, of course the fans are there to watch the Colts compete. But just as much, they are coming to make connections and build bonds with family, friends and fellow fans, and experience special memories that you can’t get anywhere else. Football has the power to bring people together, and game day can be transformational.
In other roles, I may not have had time to pay attention to a football organization’s impact on their communities and people. Now I have a chance to spend a little more time on understanding what that impact might do for a group of people. Every team in the league could find stories about how their games make a difference in others’ lives. These games give fans a chance to disappear from their everyday problems and enjoy the game.
It’s more than the game that brings us all together, but we’re all there to celebrate, watch, and play football. Here are a few of their stories:
EDWIN JACKSON AND FAMILY
It has been over a year since the tragic death of Colts linebacker Edwin Jackson in a car accident. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Edwin and the impact he made in his short time on earth. Like all difficult situations, there is always light in the darkness. The beacon of light for me is the Jackson family and watching them continue to keep Edwin’s spirt alive.
The Jackson family created the Edwin Jackson 53 Foundation, which awards scholarships to college students who have a similar sense of service as Edwin. The foundation helps the students use their time and talents to inspire and support youth in their communities. Edwin had the gift of being able to connect with people and make them feel inspired when he visited with them. He continuously used his platform for all the right reasons and changed the lives of those who needed it the most.
I had only been on the job for a couple days when a bright-eyed young man showed up at my office. Edwin was eager to tell me his goals not only as a player, but also how he was going to change lives in the communities of Atlanta and Indianapolis. I will never forget the enthusiasm and passion that he had for others and it came across the first day I met him.
On Sept. 30, 2018, the Colts brought the entire Jackson family to Indianapolis to celebrate Edwin’s life and highlight the foundation at our home game vs. Houston. It was first time I had seen them since February of that year, and Edwin’s spirit was visible in each one of them. I remember sitting up in the press box watching our video tribute to Edwin and the generous donation to the foundation by our owner and CEO Jim Irsay and thinking about Edwin looking down, smiling at the impact that his family was having in his honor.
All who attended that game in late September were able to witness the Jackson family’s special bond and how their faith and love will continue to let Edwin’s light shine. I hope you would consider supporting the Edwin Jackson 53 Foundation.
TYLER BEIKES AND FAMILY
Tyler Beikes was born in Indianapolis and developed a strong love for the Colts. The 14-year-old and his family now live in Tuscon, Ariz., where he has a life-threatening heart defect and eventually will need a heart transplant. He returns to Indianapolis every couple of months to receive treatment at the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital, putting a great deal of strain on his family. His parents, Eric and Amber, put on a positive and courageous face, but deep down I know how hard it is on them and how much they sacrifice every day.
I first met Tyler and his family (siblings Harry, Ricky, Alicia and Ravyn) through the Make-a-Wish Foundation. They set up a visit to our facility to meet our players and staff and watch practice. During the visit, Tyler created a connection with our star wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. The look in Tyler’s eyes when he first met T.Y. was priceless, and their connection was instant. Tyler attended our game that week and although the result was not what we wanted, for three hours his family was able to forget about Tyler’s condition and enjoy the time together watching the team they love.
It’s just another example of families and fans forgetting their everyday problems to come out and enjoy the day at a football game.
Whenever Tyler and his family return to Indy for treatment, his family arranges to visit either training camp or attend a game. Every time I see Tyler waiting on the sideline for our players, he flashes a smile on his face that makes my day.
In the past two years, Tyler’s bond with T.Y. has become even more special. That’s also a testament to T.Y. It took me a year to get to know T.Y. because he is quiet, but I now can tell you he is a tremendous young man who is humble and has empathy for others. You can see how much respect he has for Tyler because of what he is going through and how he is handling it.
The Beikes family came to town for treatment the week of the Cowboys game. T.Y. had been battling a high ankle sprain and had not practiced all week. He was a game-time decision, and we all questioned if he would play. He was put through a workout two hours before the game, and when he was done, he spotted Tyler on the sideline. They hugged and were able to visit for a few minutes.
T.Y. then came into the locker room and said he was playing, and I have no doubt it was because of Tyler.
T.Y. performed like T.Y. does and finished with five catches for 85 yards in a game we won 23-0. There are infinite examples of football players inspiring fans, but there are just as many examples of fans inspiring players, coaches and staff. It works both ways.
The Make-a-Wish Foundation does tremendous work and the organization is responsible for the Colts connecting with Tyler. I encourage you to support their work.
THE CLAUSEN FAMILY
On Nov. 25, my mind was on our game vs. Miami. My wife Kristin flagged me down on the field with tears in her eyes, telling me I had to meet Joel and Andrea Clausen, along with their two children, Levi and Bryce. I didn’t know at the time how much of an impact this family would have on me.
Bryce was born in January 2018 and was diagnosed with a rare, neurological condition called Krabbe disease. It starts showing symptoms around the age of 6 months and can often result in death by age 2. It’s genetic, and the only way to save the babies born with the condition is early testing. Unfortunately, at the time of Bryce’s birth, the State of Indiana had not yet adopted a uniform screening protocol to help identify the disorder. The Clausen family understood what that meant for their youngest child—their time with him was going to be short.
Instead of dwelling on their difficult circumstance, Joel and Andrea decided to make a “greatest hits” list of things they wanted to do as a family so they could create lasting memories. They were both big Colts fans and attending a Colts game as a family was on the list. As I met the family and listened to their journey, I was blown away by their faith and strength. As the parents of five, my wife and I do everything we can to protect our children. This disease was out of the Clausens’ control.
As I walked back to the locker room before the game, I had tears in my eyes and all I could think about was Joel and Andrea and what they must being going through as a family. I also was inspired by their will to make the best of a very tough situation. Even though there was nothing we could do to help them medically, we could give them three hours where they could be together as a family and help create memories that will last a lifetime.
Bryce passed away in April 2019 while vacationing in Florida—a beach trip was another activity on the Clausen family’s “greatest hits” list. After his passing, Joel and Andrea worked to inspire state legislation to give others born with this disease a better shot at life. “Bryce’s Bill” was passed by Indiana’s state legislature in March 2019, allowing all Indiana newborns to be tested for Krabbe disease beginning Jan. 1, 2020.
The Clausen family continues to fight to help others. While taking multiple trips to the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital during Bryce’s treatment, the family would spend time in rooms that had themes. One room did not have a theme. Now, they are raising money to change that, so every child can feel some sense of positivity while getting their treatments. You can give by going here.
These are just a few examples of the impact Sundays have on others and it goes on in every NFL stadium. One of the best things about the Colts organization is the role service plays in our day-to-day operations. The Irsay family strongly believes that one of our core functions is to improve the lives of our fellow Hoosiers by helping to build a healthy, inclusive and compassionate community. Under the leadership of our vice chair/owner Kalen Jackson, the Colts have intensified our efforts to make positive impacts that bring about lasting progress across Indiana. And our amazing community relations department, led by director Ashley Powell and her team of Kelsey Rowles and Cassidy Turpin, work tirelessly to help those in need and make sure those fans get to enjoy the special experience of game day and other Colts activities year-round.
The passion for the NFL is incredible, and the ability to watch the elite compete against each other on Sundays is what makes it special. We are all emotional and passionate about the results of the game, but there is so much more about football Sundays that are unforgettable and immeasurable. That is the power of Sundays.
10 Things I Think I Think
1. I think I urge everyone to read “The Upset” by Tyler Trent, the Purdue student and super fan who captured the nation’s heart last fall before passing away in January. I heard about his mission to raise $1 million for cancer research and got to meet him. We grew close in the three months we had together, and his family allowed me to read the book before it was published. “The Upset” gives a look at a young man who lived life to its fullest and chose to make a positive difference in the world despite his life-threatening circumstances. His legacy will live forever because of the commitment he made to others.
2. I think congratulating the Toronto Raptors on their NBA championship was a first-class move by the Golden State Warriors. It starts at the top with Bob Myers and Steve Kerr. They’re tremendous leaders with humble spirits that trickle down to everyone in the organization. Plus, they built one of the greatest teams in NBA history, appearing in five straight Finals.
3. I think I have been fortunate to have been around some really special coaches in my career. They have a unique ability to reach almost any player. The consistent thread in their coaching styles is the ability to coach the man before they coach the player. The best that I have been around are my grandfather, David Green; Barry Alvarez; Lovie Smith; Andy Reid; Frank Reich; Rod Marinelli; Matt Eberflus; and Eric Bienemy.
One example is when we signed Spencer Ware to a futures contract in Kansas City. Ware had some issues in Seattle and was released before his second season, but Bienemy thought he could help him. Bienemy is demanding and tough on his players, but he also cares about them; I really believe that is why he can coach his players to the max and get the most out of them. Ware made our team and ended up starting in 2016 when we won the division. Of course, Ware deserves a ton of credit for the way he worked, but I don’t think it happens without Bienemy. I have tremendous respect for both of them.
4. I think I spend a lot of time during the summer studying the successful coaches, executives, and teams in not only football but also other sports. I really believe that you can grow by studying the success of others. It is always fun to learn about others’ journeys and how they got to the highest point in their professions.
One executive that I have tremendous respect for is Theo Epstein. I think he will go down in history as one of the best executives and leaders in sports. He has won three World Series in two different cities that were both suffering long droughts. Under his leadership, Boston won in 2004 and 2007 after not winning a title since 1918. Theo and his staff did it again with the Chicago Cubs in 2016 to break a 108-year drought. His ability to adapt and grow after leaving Boston is very hard to do and what led to one of the great turnarounds in sports history. Epstein went from an analytical approach with the Red Sox to a character-based approach plus analytics with the Cubs. Even though I am not a Cubs fan—I grew up in Texas City, close to Houston, and am a big Astros fan—I have great respect for the approach they have taken in Chicago.
5. I think there has been a lot of talk about moving the scouting combine from Indianapolis. I’m guessing if you polled all 32 NFL front offices, coaching, medical, and strength staffs, the majority would be against it. For 32 years, Indianapolis has worked with National Football Scouting, the NFL and local partners to expertly hone every aspect of the combine. The work that Jeff Foster and his staff at NFS have done to accommodate the ever-changing needs of the NFL and its broadcast partners has been nothing short of incredible. Indianapolis is the best and most logical location for the combine for many reasons and chief among them being the advantages our city offers from a football perspective to our athletes and personnel across the league:
• Facilities: Lucas Oil Stadium, which has been ranked multiple times as the top stadium in the country, and the Indiana Convention Center are world-class facilities that have ample, contiguous space to conduct drills and all the other business, media, and networking activities surrounding the combine.
• Medical: Our major hospital and medical partners are strategically located within minutes of every combine facility, making it easier, quicker, and more efficient to fulfill the needs of the athletes and teams. Partners like Indiana University Health understand the complex inner workings of our medical scheduling, which is critical to organizing and executing a successful combine. This institutional knowledge is a practical and logistical advantage few other cities can match.
• Accommodations: Most of our hotels are connected to the stadium and convention center by walkways and other connectors. They are centrally located in our downtown district and offer the ideal amount of meeting space and resources for teams, partners and media. What’s more, plans for two new downtown hotels are underway and will add important new options for the combine’s continued growth. Both properties plan to open in 2023.
6. I think I am a big fan of going away for training camp, but this is something that is disappearing from the NFL. I understand that teams want to eliminate distractions. But there is nothing like human interaction. Sure, teams can provide minute-by-minute updates on social media, but the ability to connect with our fans has to be more than looking at their computers and phones. Training camp allows fans to see their favorite team up close and personal. They get a chance to connect and make interactions that they are not able to make on game day.
It is also important that we continue to connect with our fans who are not season ticket holders. Young fans are able to get an autograph, shake hands, catch a football, and make a connection that will last a lifetime. I don’t care what anyone says—you cannot build trust through the internet and social media. Nothing will ever replace human interaction or the ability to look people in the eye and connect.
7. I think Edgerrin James not being in the Hall of Fame does not make sense to me. I have talked with one of our beat writers, Mike Chappell, at length about this. Chappell is a passionate advocate for James to get in the HOF and presents him to the HOF voting committee. Take a look at some the numbers that Chappell presented and tell me why is James not in the HOF:
• Four players have rushed for 1,500 yards at least four times in a career. Three were first-ballot Hall of Famers: Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson… and Edgerrin James.
• Seven players totaled 2,000 yards from scrimmage at least three times, including Edgerrin James.
• Three players have led the NFL in rushing in each of their first two seasons: Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, and Edgerrin James.
• Four players who rank among the top 13 in career rushing yards and playoff rushing yards: Emmitt Smith, Tony Dorsett, Thurman Thomas, and Edgerrin James.
• Edgerrin James averaged 82.7 rushing yards per game over his 11-year, 148-game career. That is a better per-game average than Emmitt Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, Earl Campbell, Tony Dorsett, Jerome Bettis, Marshall Faulk, Thurman Thomas, and Franco Harris… who are all in the Hall of Fame.
• 12,246 career rushing yards, which ranks 13th in NFL history. Ten of the 12 ahead of Edgerrin James are in the Hall of Fame and the other two are still playing and will be in the Hall of Fame—Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson.
I have absolutely zero impact on who gets in the HOF. But I know what a great football player looks like, and to me, James was the definition.
8. I think John Schneider and his staff in Seattle do not get enough credit for what they have done in the past two years. They built a great team, won a Super Bowl and lost another on one of the great plays in NFL history by New England. Like all great things, they eventually come to an end, but what John and his staff have done to retool Seattle’s roster on the fly is tremendous work. They have completely rebuilt what was one of the greatest defenses in NFL history and acquired a bunch of young, talented defenders and have a chance to dominate again on defense.
9. I think I know we live in a world of instant gratification and a “want-it-now” mentality, but we cannot forget to enjoy the journey. Things will not always go our way. We are going to fail. Those things are part of the journey, and by experiencing them, we grow. I promise, we learn more from our failures than we do our victories. Our failures challenge us at our core and test us to see if we are up to overcoming what others may perceive as our demise. The climb, struggle, and growth are the fun parts of the journey; take it all in and enjoy it.
One of the things I do on Sundays to press pause and appreciate the journey is to take a walk around the field. I don’t take a single day for granted in this league; we only get 16 competition days. I like to take it all in, from the noises, the smells—especially playing on grass in an outdoor stadium—and the freshness of a new day and new hope.
10. I think the wives of anyone involved in football—and all sports—never get the credit they deserve. My family has moved from Houston to Chicago to Kansas City to Indianapolis in a matter of six years. There is absolutely no way we would have survived if not for my wife, Kristin. Every step along the way she has supported me and my passion. If not for her, we would not be where we are today. She has sacrificed so much to keep our family moving forward and together. I promise, there is not a day that goes by that I do not thank God for putting her in my life.
A few days late, but I want to wish everyone a happy Independence Day! One of my favorite chapters in U.S. history is the Revolutionary War, and my family happens to be big fans of the Broadway musical “Hamilton.” (My son Cash has most of the soundtrack memorized.) So, I will leave you with this patriotic line from the show:
“Legacy. What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”
These words are symbolic and we should all be grateful for the men and women whose personal sacrifices help secure our freedom.