"As a coach, I'm always throwing to my kids anyway on the practice field," Kubiak says. "So I guess I never really stopped playing."

Another player puts Kubiak's age in a different perspective: "I think that quarterback was my eighth-grade gym teacher," he says.

There are conversations all around me, in octaves-lower tones, about where you played and who you played for. Personalities reveal themselves in my group of running backs and linebackers. There is the nervous talker. The cocky guy. The guy with the injury that he uses as an excuse for his performance in every drill (this guy is also the nervous talker). I have already developed a nickname: ESPN to the younger guys, and "Paper Lion" to the Kubiak generation.

With the bench, shuttle and broad jump in the books, my group makes its way to the 40-yard dash, which has become the crown jewel of football talent evaluators. The players are upset because everybody is timing slow today. Chalk it up to the spongy turf and the fact that we're running alone, instead of being paired with another player to push each other down the field. The big linemen waddle through the 40 yards, while players like Davis never seem to touch the ground.

Ted Kluck
Kluck tries to reel in a 12-yard out (Randy Moss shouldn't sweat about his job).

With the combine drills over, we move on to the business of playing football. Kubiak is clearly the most effective quarterback on the field during the 7-on-7 scrimmage, consistently getting the ball out on time and hitting receivers in stride.

"I feel good," said Kubiak, a phys ed teacher at Loy-Norrix High School in Kalamazoo, Mich. "Once I got out there and started going through things, the timing came back; it's just, at my age, you lose the zip and the explosion in your legs."

The pain in my ankle is something that I will feel good about the next day, but this day it just reminds me that I have a family to think about, and that football danger is real danger. You walk it off. You try to look tough. You realize you are about to square off against a guy who was playing D-1 ball last year, while in the mid-'90s you had a cup of coffee (more like a sip as a medical redshirt) at an NAIA school known more for theologians than gladiators, and then spent the last several years bouncing around the semi-pro leagues, trying to recapture the past. But it's all good. It's good to be breaking a huddle again. It's good to be lining up.

I catch Kubiak's eye as he walks off the field, grinning from ear to ear.

And that, I think, is the spirit of the thing.

Ted Kluck is a frequent contributor to Page 2 and the author of "Facing Tyson" to be published by the Lyons Press. He will be reporting his experiences as a long-snapper for the Battle Creek Crunch in a series of columns and a forthcoming book.



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