Let's begin the 2012 football season with something cliched - a conversation about Nostradamus.
No, he's not that defensive lineman from North East Texas State with the tree-trunk arms, we're going here for the French apothecary, author and seer, who died 446 years ago (give or take July 2).
Eric Tillman, the Edmonton Eskimos' general manager, evoked memory of the man whose ability to tell the future has been hailed as either remarkable or completely fictitious, while chatting about how his job works.
It isn't about seeing what's to come. It's about not paying too much for free agents (you save those bucks for the Canadian content), scouting like crazy and getting enough bodies with talent into camp that you can beat the odds.
Let the future take care of itself.
"When I was in Saskatchewan, I don't remember there being a parade for Weston Dressler, or John Chick, the first day they arrived," Tillman said, chatting down the line from northern Alberta.
"When we were in Toronto, I don't remember people being at the airport, waiting to greet Mookie Mitchell, when he came out.
"We're not Nostradamus, and we can't predict which guys are going to be the most pleasant surprises."
Dressler, Chick and Mitchell all went from unknown to stars. Does that mean, however, that they were surprises to Tillman and his scouts?
"This is not a situation where we don't anticipate certain guys stepping up and playing well."
For Tillman, who believes in strength through numbers, his bottom line is bringing in enough good players that the team will be successful within the crazy variables pro sports offers.
"It's like the stock market. You're not right on everyone. If you are right on enough, you will have success."Different track
Jim Barker, trained under the Jim Popp style in Montreal, takes somewhat of a different tack on seeing the future.
"I think Nostradamus is part of it," said the Toronto Argonauts' GM, who came off the field at the end of last season to concentrate entirely on finding bodies who can win.
Seeing the future, predicting disaster, making sure you're ready for it, is where the comparison comes in, he says.
"You look at every single player and say, 'If he goes down, what moves do we make?' I try to forecast the future, so if someone is hurt, you have an answer and you're not scrambling.
"That to me is what general managing is about, using your experience to forecast all those situations so when it happens, it's a small bump."
Forecasting who is going to be a star, however, is a little different.
Barker has had his share of success on those lines, certainly. Some guy named Henry Burris, when he was in Calgary. Guy named Chad Owens in Toronto.
He's off the sidelines now, where he admits it was hard to think personnel and day-to-day coaching at the same time, and back into the predict-the-future game.
If there's something all GMs would agree on, it's that finding players is plain hard work, mixed with experience, a good eye and a lot of luck.
"It's not fantasy football," Tillman says.
Historical note: Nostradamus, through his best-known book Les Propheties,
turned out to be pretty bad at predicting the future, without a lot of help by later apologists. He would have made a lousy GM
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