This story appears in the Sept. 5 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
THE ASCENSION OF SAM BRADFORD began with silence. During Oklahoma's pro day in March 2010, all the serious NFL men filled the sidelines of the Everest Training Center, notebooks in their hands and stern looks on their faces. As the former Sooners quarterback jogged onto the fake grass of the field house and started warming up, he thought: Isn't someone going to say something?
It seems odd that an industry would judge a player on his ability to thrive in such antiseptic surroundings. It struck Bradford as odd, anyway, and a little disconcerting. But he couldn't fixate on that. Now was his chance to prove that his surgically repaired right shoulder could handle the burden of carrying a franchise, and to show that in this age of the spread offense, there was still a place for a traditional dropback passer with minimal foot speed and escapability issues -- an anti-Michael Vick.
Bradford launched himself at the silence, throwing every pass hard and true. And over the next hour, he could sense the skepticism fading in the way the quiet men shifted their feet and nodded their heads. When the show was over, a few of them looked at each other and held up one finger, signifying the number of throws Bradford missed. It also could have signified their realization that only one team -- the Rams, owners of the No. 1 pick -- should have bothered to show up.
"As you finish your college career, up until the point you get drafted, everyone questions everything you've ever done," says Bradford, who cuts a classic QB figure at 6'4", 228 pounds. "It goes from what you can do to what you can't do. Not everyone can handle that. I knew I had to put on a show so they knew I could."