I've been to the Senior Bowl the past three years and it's become one of my favorite trips of the year. When late December rolls around and the college season nears an end, I start getting jacked up about going to Mobile, Alabama. Of course, for me and for us, there's plenty of work that goes with the trip. In the end, I got 16 1-on-1 player interviews, 1-on-1 interviews with Coach O'Brien and NBC Sports Josh Norris and wrote oodles of observations.
But, some of the fun in going to the Senior Bowl is the off the field things that happen or you see. Here are but a few of the stories or items that added to the flavor of Senior Bowl week.
- For years, when talking about anything that involved the Rams, my dad would call them the LA Rams. He never changed, either. Last year, Todd Gurley was drafted by the LA Rams, according to my pops. Luckily for him, the move back to LA is no big deal; it'll be everyone else that has to adjust. As such, it was truly strange to see Rams personnel with credentials that read "Los Angeles" on them.
- The NFL might have 32 different entities but there's a compelling bond that the scouting/coaching community has that's exhibited at the Senior Bowl. Everyone seems to know everyone and there are hugs and dap and handshakes of scouts and personnel people seeing each other for the first time in a while. Even for me, I was standing at the weigh-ins waiting for Senior Bowl Director Phil Savage to take the stage to start when I saw Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman walk up to someone and say "hey, Jamaal…" That would be Director of College Scouting Jamaal Stephenson, Brown University Class of 1997 and a fellow defensive back with yours truly.
We've seen each other a number of times over the years at East-West games, the NFL Combine and previous Senior Bowls but it's always cool to catch up. Then, Texans scout Mike Martin walked up and we've gotten to know each other since I've been in the building. I'm thinking Mike's coming to talk to me and he reaches over and hugs Jamaal. They knew each other when they were scouts living in the Maryland area earlier in their career. Everyone seems to know everyone and that gives the week a neat vibe.
- Reese's is the title sponsor of the Senior Bowl so there are Reese's peanut butter cups everywhere. At the team hotel, Krispy Kreme drops off dozens of boxes of donuts every single day for scouts, players and the sort. Man, you talk about eat like kings in Mobile. Krispy Kreme. Wintzell's Oyster House on Media Night. Drago's in New Orleans on the way to Mobile. Mellow Mushroom on the way home. Fat Tuesday is coming up but it was Fat Monday, Tuesday, Wed…
- I walked into a coffee shop down the street from the team hotel early on Wednesday morning. There was Thomas Dimitroff, Falcons GM waiting for the two gentlemen that were walking in just behind me - Ted Thompson, GM of the Packers and John Dorsey, GM of the Chiefs. That happened everywhere you go in Mobile.
- The interview I did with Oklahoma OLB/S/ILB/Slash player Eric Striker was one of the most engaging and best interviews I've ever done in all my years of doing media. It'll get posted later this week at houstontexans.com but that man has a career in media when he's done playing ball at some point. But, if I could draft someone from this Senior Bowl week, it'd be that guy.
- After interviewing Penn State's Austin Johnson during media night on Tuesday, he says to me "hold on, I've got to show y'all this." He scrolled on his phone and went through about a couple of hundred pictures or so. "I've got it!" He pulled up a picture of his former head coach, yes, current Texans head coach Bill O'Brien, from his senior year in high school. That was telling. Here's a guy that hasn't coached Johnson for two years and Johnson still carries that picture around. Speaks volumes of what those Penn State players thought of O'Brien.
- Speaking of O'Brien, we got a few minutes to interview with him at the Senior Bowl and as we were mic'ing him up, the tiny windscreen on the mic kept falling off. Everytime he'd pin it to his lapel, it would fall off. As I picked it up, I joked that it was my fault. "YEAH, anything that goes wrong with the Houston Texans is Johnny Harris' fault!" the Texans leading man jabbed. So, now you know, if you ever wondered... (He was joking...I think)
That should wrap it up from Mobile, sad though that may be to say. But, the Scouting Combine is right around the corner and we get to do this all over again.
Check out some snapshots from Day 3 of Senior Bowl practice in Mobile, Alabama. Images courtesy of AP.