I bet you didn’t realize another football game was actually played last weekend, did you? Or that one will be played tonight in Las Vegas?
And unless you happen to be someone fully invested in college football, so much so that the pro game is almost an afterthought for you, you probably didn’t know that an actual, with-pads football game was played last Saturday, did you?
Well, what do you THINK the NFL Network has been running when they’re not previewing the sport’s biggest actual games, ones they don’t own broadcast rights to?
Here, let me catch you up, per NFL.com’s “staff” (yes, these days, that can indeed mean a bot):
A 24-yard field goal by South Dakota’s Eddie Ogamba secured a 19-17 victory for the American team in the final seconds of Saturday’s NFLPA Collegiate Bowl at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
The National team rallied from a 13-point third-quarter deficit to take its first lead of the contest early in the fourth quarter, but back-to-back carries of 20-plus yards by former Wyoming running back Titus Swen and a personal foul penalty in the final minute set up Ogamba’s game-winning kick on the final drive of the night.
East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers was named MVP of the annual all-star game after completing 9-of-12 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown for the American team.
The game capped off a week-long event for the participating 2023 NFL Draft prospects, including practices in front of 300-plus NFL scouts and NFLPA U sessions on the business of football. The American team was led by former NFL head coach Jeff Fisher, who earned the victory over Eddie George, coach of the National team. George, currently the Tennessee State head coach, played for Fisher during his career with the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans.
The coaches’ names are recognizable. The players, not so much. Unless you’re an alumnus or resident, you probably didn’t watch a whole lost of South Dakota, East Carolina or Wyoming football on Saturday afternoon last fall. But the chance to showcase their talents to a national audience, with undivided attention for those who do care (especially those scouts), in a far more famous venue is perhaps the big chance that talents like these have to warrant attention to be noticed by pro teams. As you can tell by the overwhelming number of empty seats in the stands in the picture above, not a lot of people besides the scouts show up.
The same will be true tonight at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, where the East-West Shrine Game will again be contested. If the game at least sounds familiar, then you may have the kind of memories I have of this game being the highlight broadcst for independent television stations to actually show live college football, and often they promoted the hell out of it. The game often preceded or came right after the Hula Bowl, which ABC regularly covered on Wide World of Sports if for no other reason as to reward its staff with a trip to Hawaii and make America truly jealous as it shivered its way into far less enjoyable afternoons that the crisp autumn ones the revered Keith Jackson would crow about.
This year’s version, filling the void that Amazon Prime Video left a few weeks ago for at least one week, will have a new look, as Tobias Bass of The Athletic noted:
For the first time in the game’s 98-year history, the East-West Shrine Bowl — college football’s longest-running all-star game — will be coached by two full NFL coaching staffs, with the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots sending representatives. Falcons coach Arthur Smith and Patriots coach Bill Belichick will work as supervisors this year, allowing other staff members to coach up a level or lead a new position group. Smith and Belichick are expected to be at all practices and the game.
Slightly more recognizable schools send players to this game, as well as Saturday’s college football season coda, the Senior Bowl, which is in the midst of a full week worth of televised practices at its traditional destination venue of Mobile, Alabama. You may have even heard of a few of the participants. Zay Flowers, WR. Boston College. Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, CB, TCU. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB, UCLA. Mohamed Ibrahim, RB, Minnesota. Luke Schoonmaker, TE, Michigan, Names that made Saturday night highlights in the fall, with a chance to remind coaches and scouts they’re worth considering for pro careers.
And, to be sure, you’ll likely know some of their names much more informedly a year from now. As Bass reminds:
Over 100 players from last year’s game signed with professional teams this spring, and over 70 made final NFL rosters, including 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, Chiefs running back Isiah Pacheco and Dolphins quarterback Skylar Thompson. A few popular names that have played in the Shrine Bowl over the years include Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley, Raiders tight end Darren Waller, Broncos running back Chase Edmonds, Packers linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, Bucs linebacker Shaquil Barrett, Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson and Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith.
Unlike the Pro Bowl, which has morphed into a flag football exhibition and skills competition–the competition will actually be staged at Allegiant Stadium today, these games need to be played, despite the lack of actual crowds and miniscule live TV audiences, because they provide footage for the two and a half month drumroll to the NFL Draft, which kicks into high gear shortly after the Super Bowl. Even if you don’t watch tonight or Saturday’s games, both of which will be televised live by NFL Network (as was the Collegiate Bowl last Saturday), you’ll likely see highlights of these players during the combines and the onslaught of rankings and predictions that will dominate sports televison until then.
I mean, wouldn’t you rather look at athletes who look like this rather than simply talking heads of pundits like these?