Former Olympic Sprinter Justin Gaitlin Works Out at Tennessee’s Pro Day

Former 2004 Olympic 100 meter champion Justin Gaitlin is trying again to impress NFL talent evaluators enough to get a shot at playing on Sundays.  Gaitlin was a participant this week at the University of Tennessee’s Pro Day — reportedly running a best 40-yard dash time of “only” 4.42 seconds, which was less than several players at this year’s combine — in hopes to improve upon his brief mini camp tryout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2007.  In that mini camp he didn’t make the team, but you have to wonder with the NFL’s fascination with “world class” speed that someone will take a flier on him.

Gaitlin, who is considered a long shot by the NFL sources that I have talked to is currently serving a 4-year suspension — reduced from 8 years after an appeal —  for failing a doping test in 2006.  He has only played football sparingly in high school and college so trying to get back into the game at its highest level will be an extremely difficult task. He will most assuredly have to learn how to run differently for route running (football requires short choppy steps and cuts instead of long strides), learn to follow the flight of a ball into his hands while running, and work hours with a juggs gun to help catching the ball.

The league’s fascination with world class speed has always been prevalent and I can still vividly remember my favorite made for television sporting event, “The NFL’s Fastest Man” competition where football road runners Deion Sanders, Darrell Green, Rod Woodson, Willie Gault and others strutted their stuff.  The first attempt to convert “world class speed” goes back to 1952 when former Olympian Ollie Matson signed with the Chicago Cardinals. His conversion ended at the Hall of Fame, but other “speed” prospects have made varying degrees of impact. Matson and former Dallas Cowboys receiver “Bullet” Bob Hayes (fringe hall of fame candidate) are the high water mark and sprinters like John Carlos are at the lower end of spectrum.  Carlos had never played the game before when he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1970’s.  The game was so “foreign” to him that he even needed the assistance of a couple of reporters just to put on his pads and uniform when he joined the squad during his brief 1-year stint in the NFL. Other Olympic speedsters that have tried to make it on the gridiron have included: Special Teams Pro Bowler Michael Bates (Panthers), James Jett (Raiders), Sam Graddy (Raiders), Ron Brown (Rams), John Capel (Bears/Chiefs) and others.  Also look out for LSU explosive small running back/kick returner Trindon Holliday (2nd in 2007 NCAA 100 Meters, clocked a 10.02 in the Semi-Final Rd) in the next couple of years.

With Gaitlin running an astonishing 9.77 seconds in the 100 meters, one has to ask “Does pure track speed really have anything to do with the total game of football?” Sure being able to run a fast forty-yard dash makes you a “special player”, but I always want to see how a player performs in pads with someone coming after them with malice in their heart. John Gruden said of Gaitlin at his 2007 tryout “If (his speed) can transfer to football, you have a real threat,” and then he added, “If it can’t, then it won’t work.” Gruden quotes sum up the “world class” speed debate succinctly. Football is a game that requires instincts, quickness, intellect, agility, toughness, awareness, and several other characteristics that can compensate for pure speed. Having blazing speed can get a receiver past someone on a go route, but not being able to stay in bounds, get off a jam, take a hit, or most importantly catching and holding onto a ball can cause a “world class” sprinter to be a non-entity on the football field.

The odds are long against Gaitlin and we will have to wait and see if he can make it. Hopefully he will not hear the same words Capel heard from Dick Vermeil as he was being cut in Chiefs training camp in 2002, the heartful coach said “‘John, you’ve got to go home and do what you’re best at (running)”.

NFC Scores a 42-30 Comeback Victory over the AFC in the Pro Bowl, but Does Anyone Care

peterson1.jpg 

Led by Adrian Peterson the NFC cameback to beat the AFC in the 2008 Pro Bowl 

(Philadelphia, PA) — Well the NFL’s biggest snore fest called the Pro Bowl was played this weekend in Honolulu as NFC scored a 42-30 comeback victory over the AFC. Rookie of the Year Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson continued his magical season by winning the game’s MVP award after running for 129 yards and two touchdowns. Peterson said after the game “We didn’t get into the playoffs, so for me to come here and do this at the Pro Bowl means a lot.  He added “I came with a goal: win the game and be MVP.”

Peterson joined future Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk (1995) as the only rookies to be voted MVP of the Pro Bowl.  The former University of Oklahoma star had several highlight runs including a 39-yarder on one TD drive, and a 17-yard run where he made four AFC defenders miss him as he went in for the score.

In the end, the NFC players won $40,000 dollars which will help for their room service and bar bills, while the AFC team $20,000 compensation.  The AFC still leads the all-time series 20-18.

I want to go on the record to say that I am not a big fan of the Pro Bowl.  The game is a great reward for the players selected, but too often the week is about a vacation and very little about football.  Many veterans that have been selected tend to find an injury (See Tom Brady and Randy Moss) so they don’t have to make the long trip.  I like that Commissioner Goodell is talking about moving the game to the mainland after Hawaii’s contract runs out in 2009 and holding it in possibly California, Florida, or Texas.  The players have all balked about the game’s possible move, liking the fun and sun of Hawaii better.

However something needs to get done.  I was extremely disappointed that they didn’t even bother to hold the skills competition this year.  I have always loved the NFL’s fastest man competition —  I can still see Hall of Famer Darrell Green, Willie Gault, Rod Woodson, Alexander Wright, Ron Brown, and others competing to see who held the title. It was a shame to not see the speedsters or the other competitions where the NFL’s best show off their exceptional skills.

Here is hoping that they can find a way to “spice up” the event next year, so it looks more like an All Star game and less like an exhibition wrapped around an Aloha vacation.