INDIANAPOLIS — I shuffled into a cab outside of the JW Marriott hotel just after 1 a.m. and immediately heard the cab driver sigh in exasperation. He remembered two years ago and the last time he’d been this busy.
“Super Bowl week was great,” he said. “I’ve never seen so many people here in my life.”
This weekend was the NFL Combine. While there weren’t 400,000 people overflowing Indianapolis like two years ago for Super Bowl XLVI, the city was still brimming with people from all over — all here at the same event for the same, yet different, reasons.
It was in that cab that a realization hit me harder than these 350-plus NFL prospects hope to hit opponents in the NFL.
I was a speck in an ocean of somebodies, but we all share the same water.
Players were escorted to the podium like boxers are escorted into the ring.
Fights of a different breed ensue in both instances. At Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday, it was a clash between who a player is and who the media thinks they are.
Some stood behind that podium spewing rehearsed answers for predictable questions, but every once in a while candor was palpable.
Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley has never watched an NFL game from start to finish.
“I just have another life,” Easley said. “Hanging out with my son.”
Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy was asked about his football ability and his predicted 40-yard dash time, but the real press conference began when he opened up about his life off the field.
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater almost gave up football to take care of his mom when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She told him not to, and he loved it too much to quit.
Playing football in real life. Studying football. Watching football. Playing football video games.
“A lot of people ask me what do I do on a video game,” Bridgewater said. “I call it taking virtual reps.”
And then, there was Missouri defensive end Michael Sam.
Sam’s personal life was prodded more than others. He was asked questions that no other prospect had to answer centering on his recent declaration that he is gay and could be the first openly gay player in NFL history.
Do you feel like a trailblazer?
“I feel like I’m Michael Sam,” he said.
Do you feel like you’re an inconsistent player?
“Winning is hard, buddy,” Sam said.
So is feeling comfortable with and confident in who you are, though Sam made it look easy.
With that, Sam said a lot without saying anything. He unveiled the secret that there is no secret to standing on the other side of the podium. They are all just young men, each with unique stories and an identical dream.
I and every other person in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine —media, team personnel or player— are people.
People with dreams.
People with struggles.
People with hearts.
People with stories.