The next time you hear some blowhard, in between telling you about how the new recruits for State U. are all studs who are going to be tops on, er, dominate your favorite team's players, refer to a player's "4.3 40" time, please refer them to this article (HT: Bruce Feldman, the only reason I visit ESPN's college football page in the offseason) and respond "oh, so you mean faster than Ben Johnson in Seoul."
The overstatement of players' speed based on 40 times has always been a pet topic of mine after hearing fans rave about their players running physically impossible 4.1 40s. (Hearing over and over again about how speed kills and Michigan would not be able to handle SEC speed, all while Michigan was on a three-game winning streak against very good SEC bowl opponents from '98 to '00 also had an effect on me.) Three fan bases always stood out in this regard:
1. Arkansas fans, mainly for Cedric Cobbs. (As it turned out, they weren't totally off on Matt Jones.)
2. South Carolina fans, the model for irrational exuberance. Corey Jenkins comes to mind, the supernatural athlete who weighed 240 pounds, could throw a ball from goalpost to goalpost, and ran faster than Carl Lewis. Naturally, he was benched before the end of his senior season.
3. Virginia Tech fans, who had the rare experience of being right in their hyperbole when talking about Michael Vick and then transferred their apocryphal tales of 40 times below 4.2 to Kevin Jones, DeAngelo Hall, Jimmy Williams, and probably the little man living inside Frank Beamer's jaw that tells him that UVA's punt protection scheme is vulnerable to an overload on the left side.
What's interesting to me is that the article debunks the 40 times that come out of the Indianapolis combine, which is noted for having slow times because of the surface, and out of pro days on campus, which are timed by NFL scouts who have no incentive to overstate the speed of the prospects. In the college football world, 40 times usually come from breathless high school and college coaches who have strong incentives to exaggerate how fast their players are. Thus, the article debunks the times of college seniors, but by implication, it completely demolishes the 40 times for high school and active college players.