I've been coming to the Senior Bowl every year since January 1985. And while there have been changes, it still remains quite the same experience for the last 28 years.
The Senior Bowl is not just a college All-Star game; it's an unofficial NFL convention. Every year there are perhaps a thousand NFL personnel here in Mobile, Alabama. Between Sunday and Wednesday of Senior Bowl week a fan can find just about every coach, General Manager and scout from each NFL club here. You can also find hundreds of other coaches and scouts who may be out of work looking for a job in the NFL. At practice, the sidelines are loaded with people not only watching the players go through drills, but also people looking to find a friend or acquaintance who can introduce them to a club decision maker who may be willing to grant an interview.
Why is the busy time between Sunday and Wednesday? The answer to that question is the players arrive on Sunday and so do the scouts. The heavy practices are Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday while there may be a few scouts or coaches attending practice, it's not nearly as many as earlier in the week because the practices aren't as intense.
The Senior Bowl is unique in that the players are coached by complete NFL staffs. This year the coaching staffs of the Washington Redskins and the Minnesota Vikings are coaching the two teams. This can be an excellent benefit for those clubs because of all the extra time the coaches get to spend with the players, not only on the practice field but in the meeting rooms. The practices at the Senior Bowl are more intense than at other All-Star games. Because they are run by NFL coaches and there are so many scouts and coaches here the practices can become very competitive. It's not unusual to see a player who may have had a consensus 5th round grade going into the week move up to say the 2nd round.
The week begins on Sunday when the players and scouts get into town. Scouts from most clubs can be seen in the lobby of the player's hotel trying to round up players of interest for interviews and perhaps psychological testing. This is important for both the players and the clubs because with every player you get to spend time with, that's one less player you have to interview at the combine. The interview process at All-Star games like the Senior Bowl can be more complex than at the Combine. The reason for this is when you interview at the combine, you are limited to 60 interviews and the maximum length of time you have to interview is 15 minutes. There are no time constraints at the Senior Bowl, so if you need to spend 30 -40 minutes talking to a prospect you can.
When I was with the Bears, we used to have a suite where we would interview players. We would also bring one of our video personnel to tape the interviews. The reason for this was because if a coach or scout wanted to review the interview at a later time we had the tape to go to. There were many times when I would watch interviews back to back just to compare different players to each other. It's always good to be able to review.
In all the years I've been coming here, the main change is the media presence at the event. Ten to 15 years ago the amount of national media here was minimal. While there are many NFL people in Mobile, the media didn't know that it was a great source for "news." That has changed.
ESPN, the NFL Network as well as most newspapers from NFL cities have people here covering the week. With football websites becoming more popular, writers from not only the NFP but many other sites are here also. You will also find "NFL Insiders" such as Jay Glazer of Fox and Charlie Casserly of CBS here trying to spend time with the decision makers and get what Glazer refers to as "scoopage." It's not uncommon to find a score of these people having lunch at Wintzell's, the famous Mobile Oyster House early in the week. If you want a great bowl of gumbo go to Wintzell's. It's a guarantee you won't be disappointed.
The Senior Bowl is a fun week and a "must" for the serious fan to do once in his or her lifetime. There isn't another week like it on the NFL calendar.
Greg Gabriel is a contributor to National Football Post.