Paper Tiger: What happens when a tenderfoot sportswriter ‘trains’ for the combine

Doug Farrar
February 20, 2013

You may be familiar with "Paper Lion," the George Plimpton book and subsequent movie from the late 1960s. In that book and movie, Plimpton tries to get on with a professional sports team to see how well and average Joe would fare among some of the world's best athletes. Plimpton's attempts were predictably sub-par — after all, you can't expect to come off the street and match up with guys who have been playing their athletic craft for years.

I already knew that, but it was really reinforced to me last week, when I attempted to put myself through the same pre-combine drills put together by world-renowned trainer Travelle Gaines at his West Hollywood gym. I've known Travelle for years, and we'd been talking about this for a while. I flew from Seattle to L.A. with a bit of self-assuredness -- outside of the occasional caffeine and nicotine jags, I was in pretty good shape. I'd cut 40 pounds in the last year, was working out 2-3 times a week, and was eating remarkably well from a health perspective. Maybe, I thought, I could get through this thing without completely embarrassing myself.

Yeah, right.

The "workout" started at 7:00 a.m. last Thursday on the football field at Fairfax High, where I'd be warming up with some of the best and most athletic draft prospects of the 2013 class: Kenjon Barner, Dion Jordan, and Kyle Long from Oregon, Chance Warmack from Alabama, Kenny Stills from Oklahoma, and the list went on and on. I would be supervised by Travelle's fine staff of trainers; perhaps my man decided to avoid my outdoor humiliation and wait for me at his gym.

I was told to stretch — fine; I'd done that before. I was told to run two laps ... so far, so good. Then, a series of lateral agility drills that proved quite conclusively that I had no lateral agility whatsoever. As you can see from the video, I looked like a square dancer on PCP when I was trying to do this stuff. Then, a few quick-turn drills, which for some reason I was able to do fairly well. Then, the three-cone drills, which ... well, let's just say that I was able to make the real athletes around me feel much better about themselves.

Then it was back to Travelle's gym for more warmups and some lifting. Or so I thought. I rolled my ankle on one of the first "hop-to" agility drills and spent the next few minutes sitting on a massage table with ice on my ankle while Kenjon Barner made fun of me. Fine, kid. You go run your 4.4 40 at 200 pounds, and I'll sit here and wonder how it is that I, at 200 pounds as well, really do not look at all like a 200-pounder should.

Things did look up from there, through. Since my upper body was still uninjured, I agreed to lift with the offensive linemen. I waited for Long, Warmack, and Cal's Brian Schwenke to get through their first reps, and they encouraged me to lift 60-pound dumbbells (which I actually can do), and engage in barbell pull-ups. I managed to acquit myself decently enough — after giving me a sideways glance, Long decreed that I was an "honorary meathead," which is very high praise from any offensive lineman. God bless you, sir. Travelle's post-workout evaluation was not so kind. There are no manuals on how best to play the "wayback" position.

It was a pitiable effort on my part, but the point I wanted to make was made. A lot of people don't realize how hard these guys train, how talented they have to be, and how very slim the margin for error really is. Have you ever wondered how you'd fare? Unless you've got some serious football or track experience, probably not very well.

I learned that the hard way, and gained a new level of respect for those guys who will be putting it all on the line at this week's scouting combine.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need a little more ice. Preferably in a glass this time.