Long postcards penned while spending the last three months at NFL meat markets . . . Mobile, Ala., Monday, Jan. 15 .
Dear Mrs. Smagala,
Just thought you'd like to know that your son, Stan, a tough little cornerback at Notre Dame, arrived here safe and sound for this week's 41st annual Senior Bowl.
By the way, I don't think anyone warned Stan about the official National Scouting Weigh-In, an annual ritual solemnly conducted in the Azalea Room of the team hotel. When it came time for the 75 players to strip to their skivvies and take turns stepping on the carefully calibrated scale, Stan was easy to spot.
He was the one wearing the black bikini underwear.
This was some show, Mrs. S. The room was crammed with NFL types, bowl officials and reporters--all busily taking notes and comparing player physiques. It had the strange feel of a horse auction.
The players tried to look as if they weren't nervous, but they were. You could see it in their faces. They were embarking on America's most bizarre job-interview process, a process that began with the dropping of one's drawers.
Of course, not everyone minded the imposition. One of Stan's North teammates, Chad Thorson, a linebacker from tiny Division II Wheaton College, was thrilled just to be here.
"I would have stood up there naked if they wanted me to," he said.
I told him that wouldn't be necessary. After all, Stan pretty much took care of that.
\o7 Mobile, Monday, Jan. 15\f7 .
To: Todd Marinovich, c/o USC football offices.
Saw your former Trojan teammate, offensive lineman Brad Leggett, in the hotel lobby. Thirty-five years ago, Leggett's father, Dave, played in this same game, but he wasn't subjected to the same scrutiny.
About 21 NFL head coaches, 280 assistants, 200 assorted scouts, a dozen or so player personnel directors and a handful of general managers are here this week. That's more than 500 sets of trained eyes. And I'm not even counting the contingent sent here by the Canadian Football League teams or the dozens of Armani-clad agents who have flocked here as if it were a stop on their migratory path. You know what most of these agents want--clients and power of attorney.
Brad will get $100 per diem for each of his six days here--about one-third of what players used to get before the NCAA began grumbling about extra benefits and amateur status. The Senior Bowl paid for his air fare, his hotel room, his food, his entertainment, his wristwatch, his medical examination and even his official jockstrap. No room service is allowed, though, and if you try checking out without paying your phone bill, you don't get your $600. Also, if you stick another player's helmet logo on your own, you forfeit half of your measly paycheck.
Football people live for silly rules.
Still, for all its quirks, this is the all-star game that matters. If you want a tan, you go to the Hula Bowl. If you want to be seen, trained, coached and evaluated by an NFL staff, then you wangle one of those 75 invitations to Mobile. Last year, 21 of the first 50 draft picks played here, and 71 of the 72 players on the combined North-South rosters were eventually taken. So strong is the appeal that when LSU quarterback Tom Hodson asked his coach, Mike Archer, which all-star game he should attend, Archer didn't hesitate.
"Senior Bowl," he said.
By the way, Archer is a coach in this weekend's East-West game.
Got to go. The first practices start in an hour.
\o7 Mobile, Monday, Jan. 15\f7 .
Dear Mrs. Redding,
Well, your son, Reggie, survived the North's first workout--barely. After today's session, he's probably wondering whom Cal State Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy bribed to secure him a spot on the Senior Bowl roster. In short, Reggie, a 6-foot-4, 295-pound offensive guard, had a rough start.
"How did I feel?" he said after the workout. "I want to say, 'Amazed.' I felt like I wasn't supposed to be here. We scrimmaged at the first practice. I felt like I was watching."
Don't worry, Mrs. R., Reggie was just a bit star-struck.
"I'm not that good to not be nervous," he said. "You got a million eyes on you, plus you're practicing against the top guys in the country."
And let's face it, half the players here wouldn't know where Fullerton was if you handed them a Thomas Bros. Guide complete with the appropriate grid numbers. The guys Reggie tried blocking made weekly appearances on national games of the week.
"Us," said Reggie, "we were on Prime Ticket."
Two NFL film crews, perched in the practice field press box, recorded every drill. At afternoon's end, they developed the film and delivered it to the scouts, who then graded every player. Reggie said he isn't in any hurry to learn his first day's score.