On blindingly fast 40-yard dashes
After you read that story check out the companion piece I penned about fraudulent 40-yard dash times and the NFL’s false economy of speed.
The first story is longer but the second one is a longer time coming. Every year guys run fast times at the NFL Combine or at their campus pro days, every year high school players allegedly drop 4.3s on their way to college, and every year so-called experts tell us that a fast 40 equals world class speed.
They even tried to convince us that the race for World’s Fastest Human was a two-man competition between Chris Johnson and Usain Bolt.
And that’s when I decided I’d had enough, and that as soon as the opportunity arose I’d write the story debunking the myth of the 40-yard dash.
This story is the fruit of that opportunity, so please read it because we’re about to discuss it in detail.
Now before you dismiss me as an idiot for implying that Deion Sanders was “only” a 4.4 sprinter, lets understand a few things about the 40-yard dash.
First, it measures acceleration more than speed.
While fastest 100 metre dash goes to the sprinter who hits his top speed at the right time and maintains it the longest, the fastest 40 goes to the guy who can transition quickly to his top speed.
Deion’s best 100-metre time (10.26 seconds) proves he’s plenty fast, and significantly faster than either Chris Johnson (10.38) or Bo Jackson (10.44), but in a race he may have trailed them to 40 yards before hitting another gear and pulling away.
Also remember that when Deion entered the draft players trained their speed, but twenty years later they train specifically for the 40, hiring high priced experts and devoting an entire winter to those crucial four seconds plus.
Put a young Sanders in today’s environment and I’m betting he equals or eclipses Johnson’s 4.24.
This nit-picking about 40 times doesn’t change the fact that both CJ2K and Prime Time are among the fastest football players ever to strap on pads, but the bigger question to me is exactly how football supplanted actual sprinting as our most trusted and valuable measure of speed.
Think about it.
When Jose Bautista hit 54 home runs last year nobody wondered how his bat speed would transfer to golf, or hypothesized that long-driving golfers like Tiger Woods could compete with Bautista as power hitters.
When Rafael Nadal wins a Grand Slam we don’t speculate on how his abilities translate to a sport we’re more familiar with — like table tennis. Nor do we believe that the world’s best table tennis player’s skill set would serve him well on the ATP tour.
Yet it seems like every time someone sets the 100-metre world record at the Olympics (since that’s the only time most Americans watch track), we wonder what kind of football player he would be. Then we start seeing thinly reported stories about how the NFL is his his next stop.
Conversely, when an NFL player shows remarkable speed the chatter soon starts about how he measures up against the world’s best sprinters.
As if Usain Bolt’s 9.58 isn’t legit until he repeats the feat with a ball under his arm.
Or as if a few long runs in NFL games automatically signify “world class speed.”
Understand, some NFL players have it.
But Darrell Green has sprint bona fides. His 10.08 over 100 metres makes him faster than a lot of sprint specialists, as Willie Gault found out the hard way.
Most times, however, we’re not talking about a Darrell Green. We’re just guessing a player is world class because he can outsprint 250-pound linebackers.
Or we’re deciding that we don’t have a true read on a player’s speed until some old guy with a stopwatch times him in the 40, because that question inevitably arises when a dominant 100-metre runner emerges.
Even when the sprinter in question already plays football.
Based on 100-metre times Florida’s Jeff Demps (10.01) is just about the fastest person who has ever played football and an NCAA champ over both 60 and 100 metres. His football coaches at the University of Florida have never even bothered timing him in the 40.
Yet when he applies for the NFL draft he’ll have to head to Indianapolis and run a 40 at the draft combine to answer any lingering question’s about his speed — because somehow a pair of short sprints say more about his speed than his entire body of work.
If you say so, football fans.
I’ll just believe my eyes.