The NFLnormous scouting combine gets its mighty engines underway Wednesday for the biggest job fair outside the U.S. budget. But it can be a small world this week in Indianapolis if you run into a redhead that's as big as the NFL Network.
Boston College right tackle Richard Lapham, all 6-8 of him, was scheduled to arrive in Indy Wednesday morning with the rest of the offensive linemen. If you ever wanted to know what the voice and conscience of Bengaldom sounded like when he arrived here 37 years ago as a rookie, now you'll know. Richard, 23, is the nephew of Dave Lapham, the club's former handyman offensive lineman and current popular radio analyst for longer than Richard has been alive.
"Smart kid," the uncle says. "Went through BC in four years. Big. I mean big. When you see him this week, you'll be shocked. Big. I think he's the kind of guy who's going to play for a long time as a right guard-right tackle type."
The genes fit snug since Dave Lapham used brain and brawn to play 12 seasons in two pro leagues, 10 of those with the Bengals. And even though conventional scuttlebutt has Richard tagged as a late-rounder or free agent, a draft runs in the family.
Dave got drafted by three leagues in that Watergate spring of '74. The NFL, WFL and CFL. Five years later, Richard's father, Roger, clearly not feeling Jimmy Carter's national malaise, got drafted by the NBA Bucks and the next year by the NFL Bills. Roger Lapham, a rugged 6-5 forward and the glue of the University of Maine's most famous basketball team as a member of one of New England's best one-two punches with the legendary Rufus Harris, lives in Amherst, N.H., about an hour north of where he and Dave grew up in Wakefield, Mass., and is an agent for Cincinnati Insurance.
"Richard's a pretty good athlete," Dave Lapham says. "He was on a state championship basketball team in high school and Roger had him out there with the dropstep in the post."
Of course, there wasn't this kind of combine when Dave and Roger got drafted. Instead, Dave played in all four major all-star games within about five weeks, a veritable anachronism in an era when top prospects back out of just one. Roger drove to the old Schaffer Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., for workouts staged for the pro scouts for prospects in that part of New England. A basketball guy with maybe a shot to play tight end. Maybe like tall, rangy Danny Ross of Northeastern, taken by the Bengals the year before.
Richard, on the other hand, may have the MRI of his surgically-repaired knee examined this week by as many doctors as scouts that looked at his father and uncle combined. Not only is there a combine, but Richard has spent the last few weeks in Combine Prep. He's represented by Eastern Athletic Services and Tony Agnone's Hunt Valley, Md.-based agency sends their clients to a Pensacola, Fla., facility to train and study for what they'll face from the teams and the clock on and off the field.
Richard Lapham, a three-year starter for BC, won't be able to do the drills in just his third month off surgery to fix his patella tendon. But he knows the physical, the team interviews, and the tests that are highlighted by the Wonderlic have become just as important. He's being drilled daily in simulated interviews and is taking tests closely designed to the Wonderlic that is supposed to judge mental aptitude in a timed exam.
"I'm going out there with a handshake and ready to talk," Richard Lapham says. "It's the biggest job interview I'll ever have. We're all leaving here (Wednesday) at six in the morning for a flight to Indy and I don't know if any of us are going to be able to sleep tonight."
But, in the end, he didn't have to get all that advice from the consultants.
"My dad told me to just be myself. Just be who I am because I've been successful and that I should feel good enough about myself that I don't have to be anybody else," Richard says. "My uncle told me the same thing. Be honest. That's what they want to see."
Dave Lapham knows Richard never saw him play and rarely hears him on the radio. He has heard him a few times on Saturdays when they've stumbled across the rare Big 12 telecast that floats into New Hampshire. Roger has shown him a few home movies, like when Dave played for Donald Trump's and Herschel Walker's New Jersey Generals of the USFL. But for Richard, Donald Trump is a reality TV star.
Dave did consult with the Bengals before last season to get a read on where they thought Richard would go. It was pretty much the same feedback the family is getting now. Anywhere from fifth on and maybe a free agent. But as modern as the times are, the uncertainty of the collective bargaining agreement has some aspects of the game in the dark ages. They don't know when Richard and other possible free agents would be allowed to sign. Right after the draft, per usual, or only when a CBA is signed?
"We talk about football if we get the chance," Richard says of his uncle. "If you flip on the film from the '70s and '80s, a lot of it is the same for the offensive linemen. The angles and the steps are pretty much the same."
Starting to sound like Dave a little bit? But there's a lot of Roger in him. A lot of old school. Just listen to what he told him in the low post during those basketball days.
"My dad always told me to use the backboard. He calls it "the glass," and he always told me to use the glass," Richard says. "It might not look as good as a swish, but it's always reliable and you look at a guy like Tim Duncan and how he's played the game for so long. Nothing flashy. Just solid."
Which is pretty much the book on Richard heading to Indy. Here's one NFL scout:
"Great size. Not a great athlete. Plays ugly, but he never lets his man get to the quarterback. Very smart. Got his degree in four years at a good school. Great competitor and has a mean streak. He plays nasty. He'll go right up to the whistle. Good prospect."
Getting the degree is expected in the Lapham household. Dave's mother always wished he'd gone to Harvard, but he got a well-used communications degree from Syracuse.
And while Dave talks about getting drafted in the age of dinosaurs, how about this story from B.C.? Before Cable? Roger was painting houses in the summer of 1979 when he heard a report on WBZ radio of New England players taken in the NBA draft. Something about the ninth round. Roger Lapham. To the Milwaukee Bucks.
"Gil Santos," said Roger of the announcer. "I couldn't believe it. By that time, I had kind of already decided to go back and finish my degree because I had changed majors. Besides, (Bucks coach) Don Nelson told me they were pretty sure they were going to keep Sidney Moncrief and not me. He was the only rookie that made the team that year."
Plus, by then, Maine football coach Jack Bicknell had talked Roger into playing tight end while he finished his business degree, and he was well on his way to bulking up to 235 pounds. Bicknell would later become famous for coaching Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie at Boston College.
Roger says of his BC son, "We think his best football is in front of him." At least Roger will have this draft in front of him. He got picked by the Bills in the 12th round of the first draft ever televised in its entirety by ESPN. But he got married the day before the draft, April 28, and the forwarding number he left for teams to reach him was their hotel in Bermuda.
"I got a phone message to call (linebackers coach) Dick MacPherson of the Cleveland Browns. Collect," said Roger. "He said, 'We were going to take you in the 12th, but it looks like the Bills already have."
MacPherson was a Maine native and a future coach of the Patriots.
(In the end, Roger never got to play in a preseason game. He got cut after three weeks. He was a pass-catcher and they tried to make him a blocker. MacPherson told him the Browns wanted to stash him on IR so he could watch future Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome play for a year. Newsome, now the Ravens general manager, is going to be jotting notes on Richard this week.)
Dave didn't have a Draft Day party, either. A couple of teammates and his older brother Bruce joined him at his Syracuse apartment to literally watch the phone. And the wait was interminable. It was the first year of the World League and contracts had to be hammered out. Dave, in fact, turned down a first-round selection from Birmingham once the Bengals drafted him in the third round.
"Cleveland called me in the third round and I thought the draft was over by then; it took forever," Dave says. "They said, 'We're going to take you,' and they hung up. And then the next thing I knew, the phone rang again and I picked it up and said, 'Cleveland?' And the guy said, I don't know who it was, 'Don't ever say that name again. This is Cincinnati and we just picked you."
A Lapham hasn't been drafted in 31 years. Before cell phones, the spread offense, and Mel Kiper Jr.
"I'd like to keep the family tradition going," Richard Lapham says. "I'd like to be the third one."
But it is a small world, after all.
Dave says his nephew is quiet and won't have more to say than that.
"Yeah, if we're eating dinner or something like that," Richard says. "But if you line up across from me in pads and are going against me, it's a different story. I like to win. That's why I really enjoyed playing basketball in high school. We won."
Sounds like Dave, right? Sounds like he's got a pretty good shot.