Today I had a conversation with a friend of mine who’s between jobs in football right now, and starting to look outside pro football for a way to support his family. However, before he completely moves on with his life, he wants to give it one last shot, so we talked today about how he might get in front of some real difference-makers, and our discussion turned to the Senior Bowl.

There are a lot of college all-star games, but only one Senior Bowl. It’s the one place you can go (outside of maybe the combine) where you know you’ll see representatives from all 32 NFL teams and often their decision-makers (the GM and/or head coach), plus a good number of top media types who are there to get interviews and chronicle things. The Senior Bowl may be the last, best-kept secret in pro football. It’s like the Super Bowl, but for people inside the game. I’m always hearing about people who want to crack the NFL, and they go to the Super Bowl and hope to bump into someone. To me, that’s a mistake. I’ve never been to a Super Bowl, but I’ve been to every Senior Bowl but one since about 1999.

The best part about the Senior Bowl is that you don’t have to have credentials to ‘get in.’ Practices at Ladd-Peebles Stadium are open on one side of the stands, and every day, lots of students from nearby high schools, fans, parents of players or whatever show up and check out the proceedings. Meanwhile, the team hotel is pretty much where everyone congregates. It’s very similar to The Omni in Indianapolis at combine time. Though the Omni is not where combine invitees stay, it’s become the place where football types seem to congregate. The Renaissance Riverview Plaza, which does house the players, is the nerve center in Mobile. Especially early in the week, it’s the place to be, hands down. At some point, everyone moves through the Riverview. I always tell people that the first time they pass Bill Belichick or Michael Irvin or whoever in the john, they’re starstruck; the second and third times, you’re more like, ‘get out of my way.’

At any rate, getting your foot in the door with top agencies or NFL teams involves cutting through the clutter and getting face to face with someone who can make a decision. While that can be daunting, you don’t get a hit if you don’t get an at-bat. If you’re thinking the NFL is the only way you can fulfill your life professionally, start by thinking of a way to get to Mobile.