MOBILE, Ala. -- More than a hundred people sat on chairs near the stage. Several hundred more sat in bleacher seats behind them. The entire setup filled only part of a cavernous room in a convention center, but considering the fact that this event took place in a hallway not that long ago, the exact amount of convention center space it occupied didn't disqualify it from the realm of genuine spectacle. Every time the man on stage announced another number, every head in the bleachers turned down. Pens scribbled. Digits were recorded to be scoffed at, marveled at and sent back to the home office for further examination.
Everyone in the bleachers appeared to undertake this task with the ultimate dedication. Brows furrowed. Eyes squinted. No one wanted to miss a single measurement.
Under any other circumstances, hundreds of adults gathered to watch 21- to 23-year-old men walk across a stage in their underwear might arouse scorn, or, at the very least, suspicion. But such is the power of football that on Monday, that very scene played out in the Mobile Convention Center and no one found it the least bit odd. The college season is over. The NFL's conference championship games have been played. All that remains are the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl before a long offseason full of basketball, hockey, baseball and boredom. So this is what we're all reduced to -- ogling dudes in Spandex as they get weighed and measured.
The Senior Bowl weigh-in is essentially the official start to football's silliest season. It's creepy mostly because the representatives of buyers spend time in 2013 examining healthy young men "on the hoof." Let's end that comparison here, because, after all, these are mostly college graduates who are mostly auditioning for six-figure starting salaries.
That doesn't make the process any less absurd, though. Much of the buzz Monday morning emanated from draft analysts impressed that Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker measured in at just under 6-foot-5, weighed 355 pounds and didn't look sloppy. Apparently, the 12 nationally televised games Alabama played during the 2012 season weren't enough to convince these people that Fluker has a shockingly low body fat percentage for a man of his height and weight. To truly believe, they had to see Fluker in his skivvies. (Fluker told me before the BCS title game that he arrived in Tuscaloosa weighing 405 pounds and that Alabama strength coach Scott Cochran deserves most of the credit for turning Fluker into a lean-ish defensive lineman compacter.)
Several of the players probably left the convention center ticked at their college sports information directors for inflating their heights on their school rosters. The most fun a scout can have during the Underpants Show is comparing the listed height from the college roster with the specific-to-the-tenth-of-an-inch actual height determined by the ruler on the stage. For example, Louisiana Tech receiver Quinton Patton measured at exactly 6-0. That could cost Patton some money, because the Bulldogs listed him at 6-2. Meanwhile, Oregon's Kenjon Barner -- 5-11 according to the folks in Eugene -- measured out at 5-9. Barner could dispute this. He sported a Mohawk that should have gotten him up to his listed height, Fletch-style, but his coiffure was rudely tamped down during the measuring process. This might not be a bad thing, though. Stretching Barner's 188 pounds over 71 inches might make him too thin for NFL tastes. Condensing them into 69 inches makes him seem more like a ball of thickly coiled potential energy. Meanwhile, SMU softpedaled the sheer freakishness of Estonian defensive end Margus Hunt. The Mustangs listed Hunt at 6-7. Monday, he measured 6 feet, 8.2 inches.
These things always feature a "Who the hell is THAT?" moment, and Monday's came when 6-foot, 1.7-inch Missouri Southern defensive tackle Brandon Williams tipped the scales at 341 pounds. Despite being more than an inch shorter than I am, Williams carries 341 pounds better than I would carry 241 pounds. His physique is an anomaly even to the hardened scouts who study the masculine form like Leonardo when he drew the Vitruvian Man. Williams looks as if someone took a safety and inflated him to comic-book proportions. He'll be an endless source of fascination during the next few months -- especially if he doesn't get blown up by the big-school offensive linemen during practices this week.
While the weigh-in highlights the most ridiculous aspects of the pre-draft process, the rest of Senior Bowl week actually provides the best window into whether these guys can actually play football at the highest level. Practicing in pads with representatives of every team watching provides the ultimate motivation and opportunity. For those who take advantage of it, the financial rewards can be considerable. Still, those considered the best of the best aren't here, either because they feel they have nothing to prove or because they worry they could harm their stock. Some are correct. For example, Alabama guard Chance Warmack should handle every pre-draft interview the same way. He should walk in, hand team officials a DVD of the Crimson Tide's 2012 season and walk out. Meanwhile, some of the absentees probably could use the head-to-head competition. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith didn't do enough this season to differentiate himself from NC State's Mike Glennon, Oklahoma's Landry Jones or Syracuse's Ryan Nassib. Those three are all here, and they might vault themselves past Smith with a good showing.
Of course, Smith didn't spend Monday parading past several hundred onlookers while wearing only his underwear. So maybe he is the real winner here.