The Senior Bowl is always a special experience for the players participating in their final college game. The 2021 edition takes on greater importance because it will be the primary audition for some players due to various pandemic-specific restrictions limiting teams and their access to players before the NFL draft.
Another big difference for the 2021 Senior Bowl from years past is payment. Players participating in the first Senior Bowl in 1950 were paid. Compensating players was a standard part of the game for decades, and by the time it ended in the 1980s, some players made a nice chunk of change for a few hours of work.
2021 Senior Bowl more important than ever for players and teams
The 2021 Senior Bowl, like each previous version, showcases many of the top college prospects for the upcoming NFL draft. While every game has been played in Alabama since 1951, this year’s version will feature a heavy Alabama presence on the field with the top trio from the national championship Crimson Tide offense in quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris, and wide receiver and Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith.
This year’s game is especially unique. It will include multiple players from lower division schools who didn’t play a single snap all season due to the pandemic. The Senior Bowl will be those players’ lone opportunity to showcase their talent to the NFL personnel in attendance.
“That’s going to probably be the most difficult part. We’re looking at kids who played in ’19, they decided to opt out this year, a couple of them did decide to play in the Senior Bowl, so you’re going to get a glimpse of where they’re at,” Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said on vikings.com.
Senior Bowl has a long history
While this year’s Senior Bowl has quite a unique set of circumstances surrounding it, the game has remained pretty consistent since the inaugural contest was played in 1950. The first game was the only one located outside of Alabama state lines and was held at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida.
The game was moved to Mobile, Alabama the following year and it has been played at Ladd-Peebles Stadium up until last season. The 2021 edition will be played for the first time in the University of South Alabama’s new Hancock Whitney Stadium.
Players received payment in the past
One of the biggest differences from those early Senior Bowls and today’s contest is payment. The very first game played in 1950 up until the late 1980s, players were paid to participate in the game.
Compensation was set up similar to the NFL playoffs, where players from the winning team receive a larger amount than players from the losing team. In 1950, a player on the losing team received $343 and a winning player received $475.
That amount increased in 1975 and the losers received a payout of $1,250 versus the winning payout of $1,500. In 1988, the final year players received payment, Senior Bowl MVP Thurman Thomas and his winning teammates earned $1,750 while the losing squad’s players received a payout of $1,500.
Not a bad amount of money for a few hours of work.