Approaching the Home Depot Center in Carson, California for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, I thought I was about to watch a simple exhibition for some mid-tier prospects to strut their stuff. Yet when I got out of the parking lot, I saw people scalping tickets, and then I realized, it's still football.
This wasn't just an audition, but a game. It might not have been the Super Bowl, but there were fans in the stands and media in the boxes.
It was a nostalgic type of game. Two coaches who have found greener pastures in retirement came back for one last hurrah. The joy in their eyes was apparent during their respective press conferences. The passion in their blood was apparent during the game. Coach Tom Flores and Coach Dick Vermeil still had the same fire in them as they raced up and down the sidelines coaching the players between plays. Vermeil's said his heart even raced as if it had been the Super Bowl.
The players were getting just as amped too. You could hear them from the press box trying to pump up their teammates. You would never know that there were no NFL Scouts in attendence by the way these players played. For a lot of them this is their last chance to play football as part of the team. There were some prospects such as G.J. Kinne, Max Holloway, Peyton Thompson, Brandon Washington, Lavasier Tuinei, and Bo Levi Mitchell who proved that they have a good chance to be drafted into the NFL. There were others such as Patrick Witt, Isaiah Thomas, Antwon Bailey, Andrew Iupati, and Jonte Green who proved that despite their small schools and/or their small stature, they could play with the big boys. Then there were others who knew this was their last hurrah, and just wanted to go out with a bang.
The game ended closer than people thought, especially when the 'National' team held a 17-0 lead with less than 3 minutes left in the 2nd quarter. The game ended 20-14, but there was no shortage of joy. The 'National' team congregated in the middle of the field for the trophy presentation, one in which Coach Vermeil said the trophy was 'bigger than the Lombardi', and a celebration which presented Vermeil with his familiar Gatorade shower.
I stood in the middle of the field as the festivities came to a close and looked around at the scene. Some players stayed on the field to savor the moment. Several fans stayed in the stands in their LA Rams jersey hoping for a chance at Dick Vermeil and a chance to convince the world that LA should have a team again.
I walked to my car about an hour after the game, and saw people in the darkness of night still tailgating in the parking lot, and then I realized once again, it's still football.