In the dark and quiet early-morning hours of April 30, 2011, in Grenoble, France, a television showed the Cincinnati Bengals selecting A.J. Green with the No. 4 pick in the NFL draft. Green's stats came up on the screen, along with his bio. He was 6-feet-4, 207 pounds, 22 years old and had run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds at the combine.
"Hmm," Anthony Dable thought as he sat watching that TV. "I'm the same height, same weight, same age, and I run as fast as he does. Maybe I can play in the NFL."
That he was thinking these thoughts in French is what makes Dable's story unlikely. Grenoble isn't exactly a hotbed of NFL wide receiver talent. Dable, 27, didn't play high school or college football, didn't play the game at all until he was 19, and he's never competed outside of France or Germany. But almost five years after watching that draft and thinking, "Pourquoi pas moi?" -- "Why not me?" -- Dable signed a contract in February with the New York Giants. He'll report to their offseason program Monday in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and he's not going there for the sightseeing.
"You don't come from France just to say, 'I was on the practice squad' or 'I was signed and then released,'" Dable said in a phone interview Monday. "I'm trying to be good. I'm trying to be great. I'm trying to earn the respect and the trust of the team so they give me a chance and I can play."
Never say never, right? The Giants' wide receiver depth chart behind Odell Beckham Jr. isn't exactly daunting at this point. And the Giants liked Dable enough to sign him the day he worked out, and they paid him enough to keep him from getting on planes to Seattle, Kansas City and Jacksonville, where he had workouts scheduled in the days that followed the one in New Jersey. He'll enter the offseason with a legitimate chance to make the team. And if he turns out to be great, his story will make a fine Hollywood script.
Dable learned about the NFL by playing a video game -- NFL Quarterback Club 98 on the Nintendo 64 -- when he was 17 years old. He got so hooked that he stayed up all night to watch the Steelers beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL, then struggled to keep his eyes open through an 8 a.m. math class the following morning. In the fall of 2007, a friend of his told him about a club team in town, so he went to a tryout and got himself a job. He wanted to be a running back, but at his size (the Giants' team site now lists him at 6-foot-5, 215), the Grenoble Centaurs' coaches figured wide receiver made more sense.
"So I thought I should watch some wide receiver videos," he said.
See, at the time, Dable was an avid consumer of video content on NFL.com. He watched all of the Top 100 player rundowns, regardless of position. He said that's how he learned English, which he speaks fluently through his French accent. Once he got thinking about being a wide receiver, he watched those a little more closely.
"There are things about the great receivers that you hear over and over again," Dable said. "Good hands, good route-runner, explosive after the catch. So that told me what kinds of things I had to work on, what I wanted to be great at."
After six years with the Centaurs, Dable says he looked into playing in Canada but couldn't for some paperwork-related reasons. So he went instead to Germany, where the competition level is a bit higher than that of the club leagues in France, and he won two national championships and a European championship with his German team.
"Maybe the league isn't as good, isn't as competitive [as the NFL], but we have some good players," Dable said. "We've got athletes over there. We just don't have the chance."
For Dable, that chance came via a call from Osi Umenyiora, the former Giants defensive end now working in London as an NFL ambassador and TV broadcaster. Part of Umenyiora's job is to help cultivate the game internationally, and his pitch to Dable was that it's tough for a league to be international when it doesn't have international players.
So he connected Dable with the Giants and with the XPE Sports Academy in Boca Raton, Florida, where Dable has been training for the past several months with the likes of Mark Ingram, Lavonte David, Travis Benjamin and Anquan Boldin.
"Boldin has really helped with running routes," Dable said. "Just with the ideas behind them and how to really understand how to do it. He's a technician who's been doing it for so long. You know what he says is right."
Two weeks into his training at XPE, where veterans work in the offseason to stay in shape and prospects train for the combine, Dable headed to New Jersey for what he thought would be the first tryout among many. He was to work out for the Giants on Wednesday, the Seahawks on Thursday, the Chiefs on Friday, the Jaguars the following Monday, then hit a regional combine before heading off to workouts with the Cowboys, 49ers and Cardinals.
But when he and British tight end Harry Innis (who shares the same agent and has worked out for several NFL teams but has yet to sign) got out to the Giants' practice fields, it was clear this was serious. Giants coach Ben McAdoo was there, along with GM Jerry Reese, assistant GM Kevin Abrams, receivers coach Adam Henry and several other Giants decision-makers. They watched closely as Dable went through what he describes as a workout similar to the ones he'd been doing at XPE.
"He's a big, good-looking player who took direction well, and I look forward to seeing him out there against our guys in OTAs and in training camp," McAdoo said.
After the workout, Dable and Innis went to the Giants' locker room, where they encountered Jason Pierre-Paul and Eli Manning. The latter asked what they were doing there and, when they told him, said, "That's pretty cool," and that it was good to meet them. Manning likely thought he'd never see either again. He'll see Dable on Monday -- at work.
"I'm not scared or anything," Dable said. "I'm willing to learn. The playbook, I see the playbook like a language. I learned English watching NFL.com. I learned German pretty quickly once I got to Germany. So I'm good at picking up languages, and so I'm not scared of the playbook. There's always a point where you make a play or do something that makes people notice you and that's your start. I know there's a moment coming like that for me in OTAs or in training camp, and I just can't wait for that."