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Sacco Sez: East-West Shrine Game not to be overlooked

Posted Jan 19, 2018

Jim Saccomano writes about the importance of the East-West Shrine Game and recalls the 1965 game that stands out in his memory.

It has been well documented that Broncos' coaching staff will coach the North team in the annual Senior Bowl next week, which is a great opportunity for Broncos coaches and personnel people to get an early view of college talent in advance of the draft.

But there is another college all-star game on Saturday, and it should not be overlooked.

One of the reasons for that is that it is yet another chance to evaluate college talent, but the other is that there is a wonderful cause attached to the game.

I am referring to the 93rd playing of the East-West Shrine Game, which is put on by Shriners International, headquartered in Tampa. Shriners International is a fraternal organization, and you might be most familiar with it because you've seen members in their famous hats, the red Shriners fez.

The game's motto, "More than just a game," refers to its charitable aim, which is to benefit kids who are being treated for a variety of conditions.

I have been at the Shriners' headquarters in Tampa, Florida, many times, and while it makes you focus on the fact that many youngsters face an uphill climb physically, it also makes you proud that our sport of football has been making contributions with the Shriners for nearly a century.

Andrew Mason and Steve Atwater of our website have been attending practices this week, and Atwater actually is in the Shrine Game Hall of Fame, making that a great reunion topic.

The game actually began as a baseball charity game played annually before 1925, but that was the year when it was determined that more money could be raised if it were a college football all-star game rather than a baseball matchup.

The idea was to raise money for the Shriners for charity, and the football game was an instant hit. Back then the game was in the Bay Area (the other Bay Area, in San Francisco) and it was played at ancient Ewing Field — which even predated Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.

(While the stadium mention is a bit of an aside, any time I can work the legendary Kezar Stadium into something, I try to do so.)

This is the seventh year the game has been played in St. Petersburg at Tropicana Field, and it is now coached by NFL assistant coaches whose teams are not still involved in the playoffs.

Over 300 scouts, team personnel and agents will be in attendance this week, and while the weather will be perfect inside the domed stadium, my greatest memory of the game as a youth was a game once called the "Mud Bowl," which was at Kezar Stadium in 1965.

USC running back Mike Garrett was named to the Shrine Game Hall of Fame for his performance, which involved slogging his way through a reported 3 inches of mud — which looked like a lot more on black-and-white television — and the West got a 22-7 win in a game that immediately obliterated uniform numbers for both teams.

It was bizarre but very fascinating to me, and it created the first significant impact of the Shrine Game in my memory bank. I remember the announcer interviewing the Shriners' representative about the charity work they did.

By the way, future Broncos quarterback Craig Morton is also in the Shrine Game Hall of Fame, along with Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers, all of whom had legendary performances in the 1964 game.

I encourage readers to follow the practices via our website's correspondents on site this week, and while the more famous college talent might be in next week's Senior Bowl game, let's not forget that talent comes from lots of places, and Saturday's East-West Shrine Game will benefit many children long after this game is played.