College all-star football players from around the country gathered in St. Petersburg last week to participate in the 88th East-West Shrine Game, the nation’s longest running college all-star football game. The game is the signature fundraising event to support Shriners Hospitals for Children. To kickoff game week, the players visit with the children at the hospital in Tampa.
“These guys are tired when they get in on Saturday night, and getting them up early on Sunday to visit the hospital is a little slow-going,” said Harold Richardson, Executive Director of the game. “But once they are there, it is a lot harder to get them to leave than it ever was to get them there. This is an experience that they will carry with them for a lifetime.”
The game gives these athletes one final stage to showcase their talents before the NFL draft, while at the same time shining a light on the important work of the hospitals.
Following the hospital visit, everyone gets down to business. The players have an official NFL weigh in, followed by an intense week of practices. The teams are led by some of the best coaches in the NFL. This year featured Leeman Bennett heading up the West and Jerry Glanville leading the East. Demonstrating the big-business of football, the practices are highly attended by NFL scouts, agents, and the media. For the players here, Shrine Game week is the equivalent of a job interview.
With over 18,000 fans in attendance, the West dominated this year’s game with a 28-13 win. Chad Bumphis of Mississippi State won the offensive MVP award, while the defensive award went to Nigel Malone of Kansas State. For some, this game was their last time on a football field in an official capacity, and for many others, it was their last stop before the NFL Combine. Regardless of the game’s outcome, the players experienced much more than a football game this week. They also had an incredible opportunity to help the Tampa Bay Area and children in need.