Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pro Day is a Show - Comment by Joan Niesen

COLUMBIA — The success was in the sounds. A sharp smack. A quick clap. The faint thud, thud, thud. In the silence, it all echoed.
With the exaggerated importance of each throw came the magnified effects of each sound, each break in that silence.
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When Blaine Gabbert took the field at Thursday’s Pro Day, the already subdued crowd became even more hushed. Those who could see did not cheer. Those who could not see — stuck behind cameras and scouts and NFL personnel — relied only on what they could hear.

Football leaves hands that will soon be worth millions of dollars. Receiver catches football. Smack. One smack was a good thing.

A smack and a clap meant something different. Between the two is a barely audible thud. Ball hits turf. The clap is a clap of disgust, of two hands that should have caught, but didn’t.

And the silence was the worst of all. Those were the times when it may have actually been Gabbert’s fault. Those were the botched passes.

Gabbert’s throwing session was like a well-choreographed dance. Quarterback coach Terry Shea took the field with Gabbert, motioning and directing him through the pre-planned routine. Throughout the crowd, assistants distributed yellow sheets that listed nearly every one of the quarterback’s steps, taking the surprise out of the show.

Because that’s what it was: a show. It wasn’t a game or a practice, not even a workout. There was no need to cheer, no need to clap, no need to sport a jersey bearing Gabbert’s former No. 11. Other players’ parents wore matching shirts, bearing the names of Carl (Gettis) and Jasper (Simmons), as if proclaiming their pride. Not Chuck Gabbert. All he needed was a pressed white shirt. He didn't have to promote his son.

Chuck Gabbert said that, for him and his son, Pro Day was just another step. Although he thought Blaine Gabbert might have felt a bit of pressure, he said it could be no worse than playing Oklahoma or Iowa.

“We’ve always said that if you can step out on a field in front of 80,000 people — most of those people at an away game don’t like you — and perform and win, I think this day's probably going to go well for you,” Chuck Gabbert said.

Of course it would. It was a show, a way to spotlight his son’s and other players’ talents. It was like a study in the science and art of how the human body can perform in a controlled environment. And it all came down to the details. Whose face was redder after his 40-yard dash? Whose momentum carried him farthest afterward? All of that mattered, each grunt and gasp isolated in the near-silence.

And there were no cheers. Not even when Tim Barnes’ 300-pound frame seemed tilted at a 45-degree angle as he darted through cones. Watching someone that large do something that can be accurately described as darting would seem to warrant applause.

Because feats like that are what's expected of these men. They’ve trained for weeks with this as a clear goal, for years with this as a vague notion. They’re expected to run faster, jump higher, throw farther. And, for the
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most part, they do. ESPN analyst Todd McShay said very little that would happen at this pro day would change Gabbert’s prospects. Because everyone already knows what he can do, what he will do. There’s no surprise.

Smack. Clap. Thud. In the end, it was nothing more than a sequence of these sounds that resulted in 44 completed passes. And then, in stark contrast to the quiet that had lurked for minute after minute, rose a restrained applause. It wasn’t a cheer. It wasn’t congratulations. It was an acknowledgment. The crowd got what it came to see.

Joan Niesen is a sports writer for the Columbia Missourian. 

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