With the college football season officially wrapped last Saturday, we are now transitioning to another part of the football calendar: Draft time. Scouting combines, pro days and draft talk await, but even before that, there are a handful of big All-Star games will be played. There, some of the top draft eligible players will get the chance to show off their skills, in hopes of impressing NFL scouts in attendance.
One of those games is the East-West Shrine Game, which will be played this Saturday at 3 p.m. EST, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.
Since being started in 1925, the Shrine Game has sent hundreds of players to the NFL, including Tom Brady, Brett Favre, amongst dozens of others.
The man behind the game is Harold Richardson, a former college and NFL head coach, as well as General Manager of the Atlanta Falcons. On Wednesday, he was nice enough to answer Five Burning Questions (and then some), on the game, this year’s participants, and the Shriners Children’s Hospital, which works hand-in-hand with putting on the event.
1. I see you have quite an extensive background in football and have been involved with the Shrine Game for two years. How did you yourself get involved with the game?
Well, I was retired and doing some consulting work when I got approached. I came down to look at it, and quite frankly the hospitals were what got me. The work they do with the kids is remarkable. Right now there are just short of a million kids they’ve treated regardless of financial situation, and it really is amazing.
I’m really just happy to be a part of that.
2. Well, we can get to the football in a second, but tell us about the association with the Shriners Hospital. What does a casual fan that might just be tuning in on Saturday for football need to know?
Well, the legal name for this game is actually ‘Shiners Hospital For Children East-West Shrine Game,” and what’s important is that if there’s any net proceed from this game, it goes straight to the hospital. And I think it’s a great opportunity for the Shriners- which as I said is a major organization, they’ve got 22 hospitals around the country, and have serviced just under a million children- that just does amazing work. Again, I’m proud to be a part of it.
3. Getting onto the football field, tell us about putting together the rosters? Are you scouting games during the season? How does that work?
I was in the NFL for 22 years, and have a guy who works for me part time named Reed Jackson who was in the NFL as a Director of Player Personnel for 30 years. Between the two of us it’s a process of talking to people we know in the league.
Beyond that, our real goal is to have people in this game that NFL teams are interested in. Through our contacts, and the film work and leg work we are able to find guys that most NFL clubs want to see.
4. What I found interesting looking over the roster, there seems to be a very good balance between guys from the big schools- the Miami’s, USC’s and Notre Dame’s- and the smaller schools like Albion and Regina. How do you go about finding that balance, and especially giving a look to the small school guys who the casual fan might not know?
One of the things that is really exciting about the game is that you give some guys the opportunity to get seen that might not otherwise. There’s the young man from Albion (defensive lineman Chris Greenwood), Cal PA (wide receiver Thomas Mayo) and the guy from Regina up in Canada (Akiem Hicks).
Still, these are guys that NFL teams are aware of that they would like to see play against top competition and so we’re able to provide that for both sides. That’s really what we’re looking for.
5. What about the head coaches? This yea's coaches, Brad Childress and Bobby Ross, both have extensive NFL backgrounds. What intrigued you about bringing them aboard?
I’m blessed to have the career I had in the NFL, and those guys are the same way. When they have the opportunity to take part in something like this, it’s an opportunity for them to give back; it’s an opportunity for them to do something that they enjoy and know it’s a good cause.
Brad and Bobby are a perfect example of that. As soon as I talked to Bobby - he had coached the game a few years ago and is aware of the hospitals and what they’ve done, so he was happy to do it. Brad hadn’t coached the game before, but was in a position where he had time to come down and do it. He knew that this was more than a game, but also about the work with the hospitals and patients. He was happy to be part as well.
6. Any other big takeaways fans should know about?
One thing I will say is that out of last year’s game, there were 53 players on active NFL rosters and 17 on practice squads by the end of this NFL season. And honestly, I think this year’s roster is better.
So that was 70 players out of last year’s game that are getting NFL paychecks, and something we’re very happy about. This year we’ve got about 100 players, and look to get about that number as well.
For all his opinion, insight and articles on college football and beyond, please follow Aaron Torres on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.
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