The Reese's Senior Bowl, which begins practices in Mobile, AL, on Monday and concludes with the renowned all-star game on Saturday, Feb. 5, is a game for many constituencies. College football seniors, for one group, who come to the game, according to the Senior Bowl website, "to showcase their talent and connect with coaches and decision-makers from all 32 NFL teams."
And while the Jets are just one of those 32 teams, this year's activities will have a decidedly Green & White Flavor.
On the fields, Jets HC Robert Saleh and his staff will be coaching up and observing the National team's players. Also at practices and at various functions away from the fields, Richard Todd will be in attendance.
Todd, the former Jets first-round quarterback, has many connections to the Senior Bowl. He's a Mobile native, for one, and an Alabama product who played in the 1976 game. In fact, Todd was the starting QB and co-captain for the South in that game and starred in the 42-35 loss to the North with a passing line of 12-for-23 for 332 yards and two touchdowns. His late-season fireworks at the Sugar Bowl and Senior Bowl — along with Joe Namath's advice to the Jets scouts to "think about Todd" — had much to do with the Jets taking Todd sixth overall in the '76 draft.
Namath also has his place in the game's seven decades of history. He completed 22 of 26 for 246 yards in the 7-7 tie in 1965. He also threw three interceptions, all in North territory, but they didn't detract from Joe Willie's accolades over the years — he was in the first Senior Bowl Hall of Fame class in 1988 and was a member of the 50th Anniversary Senior Bowl All-Time Team, selected by fan voting before the 1999 game.
Another Jet-to-be Senior Bowl standout was coach Weeb Ewbank, one of seven NFL coaches to serve as a head coach in four or more Senior Bowls. Ewbank was an HC in seven all-star games, the first four in consecutive years from 1960-63 when he was the Baltimore Colts skipper, and the last three in 1966, '71 and '73 as the Jets' field boss.
Ewbank, in 1991, and Todd, in 2004, joined Namath as Jets in the Senior Bowl HOF. Other Jets to receive that honor include former GM Dick Steinberg (1996), RB Curtis Martin (2006), C Kevin Mawae (2008), DE John Abraham (2013) and FB Tony Richardson (2015).
Then there are the game MVPs. Two in particular springboarded from that honor to first-round draft status with the Jets. Penn State RB Blair Thomas ran for 137 yards on 11 carries and added 19 more on two receptions to be named most valuable in the North's 41-0 rout in the 1990 game. Ten years later, QB Chad Pennington out of Marshall completed 11 of 14 passes for 92 yards and a TD pass in only four series of work in the North's 24-21 win in 2000.
One more game in Senior Bowl history to bring up here occurred in early 1979. That was the last time before this year's game that a Jets staff served as a Senior Bowl staff when HC Walt Michaels and his crew headed to Mobile. And who did Michaels and the Jets coaches and scouts observe in that game? Alabama DT Marty Lyons was named Most Valuable Defensive Lineman for the South, and East Central Oklahoma DE Mark Gastineau, earned the same honor for the North. Each received $1,000 for his bauble — and a lot more beginning three months later when the Jets tabbed Lyons 14th overall and Gastineau 41st.
Lyons told newyorkjets.com that the players who haven't opted out and aren't injured and will play in next week's Senior Bowl will have a great experience to start their long offseason trek toward the draft and the pros. So will Saleh as he starts year two at the Jets' helm.
"I think those college kids are going to enjoy Coach Saleh. He's energetic, he draws people into his beliefs and his enthusiasm, he's got that energy that's contagious," Lyons said. "And Coach Saleh and his staff will get a great look at some of the best college players. They get to meet you, and maybe there's someone you see down there in the game that your scouting department might want to take a second look at. And you're putting them in your system and you're working with them every day."
Roughly one future Jets draft choice plays in the Senior Bowl each year. Some years it's fewer, some years a lot more. Who will this year's Jet(s)-to-be be? That question is a big reason for Green & White fans to keep tabs on this year's game, set to kick off at 2:30 p.m. ET on Feb. 5 at Hancock Whitney Stadium on the University of South Alabama campus and on NFL Network.