Inside the grueling, wacky interview process at the NFL combine

Expect the unexpected at the scouting combine (2:19)

Former NFL safety and ESPN NFL writer Matt Bowen shares his experiences from the interview process at the NFL scouting combine and offers advice to the players about to go through the process. (2:19)

It was an odd place to see a priest. He looked official, I guess, sitting there quietly at a large circular table. Hands folded. Notebook in front of him. A bunch of empty chairs in the room.

But this wasn't church. I was trying to get a job playing in the NFL, and a Miami Dolphins scout told me to talk with the priest -- part of the grueling interview process.

Just like everything else at the NFL combine, you do it. I mean, it's a job interview, right? The priest and I were cool. I gave quick answers about my faith, how often I went to Mass. I talked about my family. You know, basic stuff. I told the truth, too. I wasn't about to lie to a coach in Indianapolis, and there was no chance I was going to be dishonest in front of a priest. And this interview didn't count as confession, so I knew it would be relayed in some form back to a decision-maker in Miami.

Everything in Indianapolis goes on your résumé. From the Wonderlic exam to the 40-yard dash, this entire thing is a test.

You are put in a stressful environment and expected to produce. A little tired? Too bad. This is the one time you get to autograph your performance in front of every single team in the league. Head coaches, owners in navy blue power suits, general managers, armies of scouts -- all the big boys are in Indianapolis for the week. And they are all watching you.

The same day I talked with the priest, I had a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call for drug testing. Then it was on to a 300-question multiple-choice exam from the New York Giants. Some prospects took it seriously. Others didn't. It was supposed to measure your personality or IQ or something. I don't know. One of the questions: "Would you rather wear a coat or a dress?" Um, what? I can't remember which one I picked, or if it impacted my final grade. The Giants didn't draft me, so maybe I didn't do too well.

Heading into the combine, we focus a lot on the drills, and when someone runs a 4.4 40 this week, I'm sure we'll all talk about it. But those are just numbers; they're not going to change what's on your college tape.

The interviews are different. That's when coaches and decision-makers can really get a feel for a prospect. They are going to ask about your background, that sorority girl you are dating, your college teammates, your coaches or anything else they want to know about. Been in trouble off the field? Well, you better come clean here. Because those NFL guys know everything. And they want answers.

Most of these interviews are taped, so it's best not to walk in there arrogant or act like you have arrived. Please. This is pro ball now. And you aren't on scholarship anymore. Coaches and scouts want to see you act like a professional. Hey, do you love playing football? Well, you better show that during interviews if these teams are going to stick a bunch of money in your pockets.

Some teams will send you to the chalkboard or put a notebook down in front of you. In a meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the defensive backs coach told me to draw up our core call from Iowa. I grabbed a pen, drew up "Under 8/3," which was our base front and coverage under defensive coordinator Norm Parker in Iowa City. And then he asked me to break down how it works, for every player. This is basic information -- stuff I could do in my sleep at the time. But when you're nervous, it doesn't always go so smoothly.

"Most of these interviews are taped, so it's best not to walk in there arrogant or act like you have arrived. Please. This is pro ball now. And you aren't on scholarship anymore."

During an interview with another squad, with a video camera in my face, a scout asked me about drinking in college. And I was going to be honest. That was the advice my agent gave me before I arrived in Indianapolis.

Do you drink alcohol? Yeah. A lot? Depends. Are we talking about spring break in South Padre Island? No, just in general. OK, I drink Busch Light at The Sports Column in Iowa City -- $1 longneck on Thursdays. Pretty sweet deal.

Then he asked me if there was one thing I could change about myself, what would it be? I panicked a little. I didn't really know what to say. It had to be a trick question. I didn't want to downplay my own talent as a player, nor did I want to come off as a guy who thought he was perfect.

After about five seconds of dead silence, I blurted out: "I wish I had more hair." Dang. I blew it. They didn't draft me, either.

The team that did select me in April missed out on my spring break stories. The St. Louis Rams never set up a meeting with me at the combine, but they did call when it mattered most. Go figure.

ESPN.com NFL analyst Matt Bowen played seven seasons as a defensive back in the NFL.