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  • Writer's pictureMatt Colville

Hancock Whitney Stadium – Senior Bowl



Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00

Hancock Whitney Stadium 500 Stadium Dr Mobile, AL 36608

Year Opened: 2020

Capacity: 25,450

 

The NFL Draft begins in Mobile

For 75 years the country's top college football players have converged in Mobile, AL, for the annual Senior Bowl. What was once just a football game featuring the best players from the North taking on the best players from the South, has now evolved into a weeklong event for the NFL as the official kickstart to the NFL Draft. It is usually held the weekend before the Super Bowl and the day before the Pro Bowl. The Senior Bowl is much more than a regular all-star game, but an annual tradition on the NFL's calendar as coaches, scouts, and front office personnel from all 32 NFL teams are on hand for the weeklong festivities to get their first glimpse at their teams’ next star players. The game has played host to some of the greatest players ever to grace the NFL – a whopping 56 players enshrined in Canton have all come through Mobile en route to their Hall of Fame careers.


The Senior Bowl traces its beginnings to 1950 when it was played in Jacksonville, FL; in 1951 the game was moved to Mobil where it has been played ever since. The game is played on the campus of the University of South Alabama at the brand new, state-of-the-art Hancock Whitney Stadium, which opened in 2020. There's probably a good reason that the game has stayed in the Port City after all these years, and that is because Mobile can be considered the birthplace of Mardi Gras, and Senior Bowl Week takes place right in the middle of Mardi Gras season. The Gulf Coast's love affair with football, combined with Mobile's hospitality and festive carnival spirit, make this the perfect recipe for an event like this. It is no wonder NFL scouts rave about coming to Mobile every year.

 

Food & Beverage   3

There is no shortages of concessions here with ten permanent stands throughout the facility. The usual fare of hamburgers ($5), corn dogs ($4), hot dogs ($3), nachos ($3), pretzels ($3), and popcorn ($2) can be found, but they also sell chicken sandwiches ($7), Conecuh Sausage ($6), and pork nachos ($6). They also have a chicken tenders and fries combo ($7) and a Philly cheesesteak combo ($8). Coke is the soft drink provider with 32 oz. drinks for $4, or you can get a 20 oz. Dasani bottled water ($3).


They also have three custom stands built into the concessions – a Cotton States BBQ stand on the southwest corner, a pizza stand on the northeast concourse, and a taco/nacho stand on the southeast side of the concourse. Foosackly’s, a Mobile-area chicken chain, has their food truck set up on the concourse as well.


There are several beer stands located throughout the stadium which sell 16 oz. Michelob Ultra and White Claw ($7), or Bud Light, Miller, and Coors ($6). The concessions here sell mixed drinks as well, and you can also get beer from the permanent concessions stands.

 

Atmosphere   5

As mentioned the Senior Bowl is more than just a game; it is a full-fledged event in itself filled with fan fests, parades, food, entertainment, and concerts that take over the city for 5 days. You can definitely tell that this is Mobile's premiere sporting event every year. From 1951-2020 the game took place downtown at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, but in the early 2000s the aging stadium was beginning to fall on hard times, and the game was at risk of moving cities. Fortunately, since the opening of Hancock Whitney Stadium in 2021 the game, as well as the event's festivities, now have a much more intimate experience.


The 25,500 seats are the perfect size for an event like this – the stadium is designed so no matter where you sit, you are close to the field and have a perfect view of the field. You will also not miss any action on the field as you walk the wide and spacious concourses. In the south end zone is a large videoboard that shows stats and game action as shown on NFL Network; this videoboard is also the second-largest board in the State of Alabama.


The huge team store in the south end zone that is open for South Alabama games is closed for the Senior Bowl. However, there are four pop-up tents inside the stadium, and several outside the stadium, selling Senior Bowl gear (shirts, hats, helmets, programs, footballs, etc.).


For the Senior Bowl, the Michelob Ultra Terrace in the south end zone is turned into a private club sponsored by the NFLPA – it is quite an impressive setup with couches and a full spread set up in the club. It is also quite intimidating to see the NFL's logo on everything throughout the game, from the NFL coaches coaching the game and NFL cheerleaders on the field, the game is even played under NFL rules.


The Senior Bowl has a pretty big Hall of Fame, a who's who of NFL Legends. So, during the game it is not uncommon to see former big-name former players standing on the sidelines. Reese's is also the main sponsor of the Senior Bowl, so expect to see plenty of orange and Reese's logos throughout the stadium as well. The Reese's mascot walks around, and the Saints cheerleaders hand out Reese's as you enter the stadium. And if you have a ticket to the private Hargrove Club on the West side of the stadium, they have a giant Reese's chocolate fountain and candy station up there.


Many of the traditions that fans were familiar with at Ladd-Peebles Stadium have carried over to the new site, for example, before the game Mobile's famous Azalea Trail Maids make an appearance at midfield as the teams are introduced. The trail maids are high school senior girls who are chosen to be the official ambassadors for the city of Mobile; the maids wear bright colored and long dresses, meant to evoke Mobile's Southern charm and hospitality. The Azalea Trail Maids have become sort of synonymous with the Senior Bowl and with the city of Mobile.



Another yearly tradition at the Senior Bowl is the HBCU band that entertains fans during the game. Known for having some of the best marching bands in college football, the HBCU bands are a sight to see and hear as they dance while they perform. For 2024 the Talladega College Marching Band entertained the crowd during the game and at halftime, while in years past Jackson State, Southern, Florida A&M, and Grambling State have all had their bands play at the Senior Bowl.

 

Neighborhood   3

The University of South Alabama's campus is located in a residential area on the far west side of the city of Mobile. There are a few restaurants in the vicinity for you to check out – Fuzzy Tacos, Mellow Mushroom, Ollie's Mediterranean Grill, and Heroes' Sports Bar are just some of the places to visit in the area. Mobile's famous chicken joint Foosackly’s is in the area as well and is extremely cheap, or for BBQ, Dreamland, an Alabama staple, has several locations in Mobile.


To experience Mobile at its best I recommend taking the 15 to 20-minute drive into downtown where most of the attractions and nightlife are located. If you take Government Street or Dauphin Street into downtown pay attention to the many historic buildings that line this stretch. Mobile is a very historic city, and this is evident by its many antebellum mansions and historic buildings that date back to the 1800s. The entire downtown area retains that French Quarter feel like in New Orleans; Dauphin Street is even like a smaller scale Bourbon Street, but with fewer people.


The Senior Bowl also takes place during prime Mardi Gras season. When it comes to Mardi Gras most people think of New Orleans, but Mobile is actually considered the "Birthplace of Mardi Gras". If you are into that sort of thing then you have to see a Mobile Mardi Gras parade. After the Senior Bowl game they usually have a parade downtown, so I recommend attending it if you have never experienced Mardi Gras before. For more on the history of Mardi Gras in Mobile, I recommend checking out the Mobile Carnival Museum located downtown.


Mobile's top tourist attraction is the USS Alabama, a huge battleship that was used during World War 2 and is located in Mobile Bay – the ship is now a museum, and you can take a tour of it. For other attractions in downtown Mobile you have the Mobile Museum of History located in the old building that was used as City Hall during the Civil War. Also nearby is historic Fort Conde, a replica 1800s fort located above the Mobile Bay Tunnel and built to guard the entrance to the Port City in the 18th and early 19th Century. For kids and families you can also visit GulfQuest Maritime Museum or the Exploreum Science Center, with all kinds of hands-on exhibits.

 

Fans   5

The unique thing about attending a game like the Senior Bowl is seeing all the different fan bases the game attracts. Mobile is prime SEC country, so you will find a lot of people representing LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Georgia.  And of course, the majority of the crowd are either Alabama or Auburn fans.


With the intense college football season over by the point the Senior Bowl takes place every year, the hatred between the different schools' fanbases is not evident here – you'll find Alabama and Auburn fans talking amongst each other as friends for one day only. Hancock Whitney Stadium also has a small capacity of 25,000 and the game usually sells out.


The Mobile Sports Entertainment Authority goes all out making this a top-notch fan experience. Since moving to the new stadium, they have the Senior Bowl Fan Fest located outside the south end zone, where you'll find various vendors, food trucks and displays, such as the U.S. Army simulator and photos with the Saints cheerleaders. They also have different hands-on football exhibits and bounce houses, as well as a few race cars, and an exhibit where you can get your own football card made by Panini. In addition, there are several other public and private tailgate spots scattered around the grounds, including one that features a pre-game concert. And for the kids, many of the school mascots make the trip to Mobile, so they are constantly walking around the tailgates and getting their pictures taken.



If that wasn't enough for the fan engagement, the various events and festivities that take place during the week are both public and private. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday they have practices in the morning that are free and open to the public. The practices are set up like an NFL Draft combine with players running various drills, while NFL scouts and head coaches look on and take notes. They also have various media events and Q&As with current and past players at the local Saenger Theatre. During the day on Friday the players do different community events around town and visit local children's hospitals, and then on Friday night they have huge a Mardi Gras parade through the streets of downtown Mobile, with the players, coaches, and mascots taking part in the parade. To top it all off, after the parade they end the week by having a huge concert that takes place in Mardi Gras Park downtown – the Revivalists, Nelly, and Counting Crows are just some of the bands who have played in year's past.  

 

Access   3

Unfortunately, the one drawback to the game being moved is just getting to Hancock Whitney Stadium; Mobile is a very spread-out town, and the South Alabama campus is located on the far northwest side. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to get to campus, as you will be navigating highways once you get off I-65 or I-10. If coming from the east I recommend taking I-10 to I-65 North and then taking Exit 5A onto Springhill Ave. Travel west for 5 miles until you reach University Blvd, and the campus will be about a mile south at the corner of University and Old Shell Road. There are 3 entrances into campus, and I recommend taking the main entrance on Jaguar Blvd in front of the baseball field. Parking is $10, but it is possible to find free parking the further away you park from the stadium. The stadium is kind of hidden on the back side of campus, but there is plenty of free parking near the basketball arena and baseball stadium.


There are three entrances into the stadium, with the main entrance being on the south side. Lines tend to back up the closer it gets to game time, but once inside the facility the concessions lines run smooth, and the concourses are very wide and don't look as crowded as they actually are.   

 

Return on Investment   4

Tickets for the Senior Bowl range from $15 for general admission in the north end zone upper deck, to $55 for the chairbacks on the west side of the stadium. Every seat in Hancock Whitney Stadium has good sightlines, so no matter where you sit you are guaranteed to get a great view. I consider this is an absolute bargain to see some of the best college football players in the country, and not only that, but all the fan events and just being able to attend practice for free make this event worthwhile. You never know who the next big NFL player you are going to see is, and you never know which NFL Hall of Famer you'll spot walking the sidelines during the free practices – for a 2024 practice I spotted Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice having a chat on the sidelines. To top it all off, Senior Bowl week takes place during Mardi Gras season, so you are able to watch college football greatest players, and then afterward watch some of the best Mardi Gras parades in the country.

 

Extras   5

One extra for the level of fan engagement the Senior Bowl provides – all the events that take place during the week make Mobile a must-visit during Senior Bowl week. This is all possible thanks to Executive Director of the Senior Bowl Jim Nagy, who took over in 2018. A longtime scout for the NFL, his vision for the game was to make Mobile a destination city for the NFL, and establish this game as the unofficial start of the NFL pre-draft process, which led to the saying "The Draft Starts in Mobile". With Nagy in charge of operations, the Senior Bowl has a full-time staff of scouts, event coordinators, social media coordinators, and sponsorship sales coordinators that work full time during the year to make sure the entire weeklong event operates smoothly.


If you want to see something cool then I recommend visiting the Riverview Renaissance Hotel in downtown Mobile, the official hotel and headquarters for the Senior Bowl during the week; you never know which NFL head coach or former NFL player you'll run into while visiting. It is quite unique to walk the streets around the hotels and see the different NFL coaching staffs walking around downtown Mobile. While you are at it check out the Convention Center across the street from the Hotel, home to media row during the week. Inside you'll find all kinds of podcasts and draft shows set up broadcasting their shows, everyone from the top sports media conglomerates like ESPN and Bleacher Report, to the average fan who just decided to start a podcast or show, is set up broadcasting on the second level.


Another extra for all the past big players and coaches who have been a part of this game over the years. Some of the 56 Pro Football Hall of Famers who have played in this Game include Terry Bradshaw, Mean Joe Greene, Franco Harris, Joe Namath, Walter Payton, and Derrick Thomas, while some of the current NFL players who have come through Mobile include Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, Justin Herberts, Derek Carr, Dak Prescott, Davonte Smith, Deebo Samuel, Cooper Kupp, and Baker Mayfield. In addition, a whopping 20 former NFL coaches enshrined in Canton have coached in the Senior Bowl including Don Shula, Bill Walsh, Mike Ditka, Bill Cowher, and Tony Dungy.



Something special they do every year for the game is induct the newest members of the Senior Bowl Hall of Fame – the former players or coaches are then honored on the field during the game. For the 75th Anniversary of the game in 2024 the Senior Bowl made a 75th Anniversary Team. Before the game they had each player make a special entrance into the stadium, with many of the players wearing their Pro Football Hall of Fame jackets as they entered the stadium. Some of the players named to the Senior Bowl 75th Anniversary team include Brett Favre, Dan Marino, Shaun Alexander, Hines Ward, Terrell Owens, Michael Strahan, Aaron Donald, Brian Urlacher, Richard Sherman, and Pat McAfee.


One extra for the stadium playing host to the South Alabama Jaguars football team; entering the 2024 season the Jags have a record of 17-9 record at Hancock Whitney Stadium. The Jags have also played in two bowl games and have had two players drafted since the opening of the stadium. Hancock Whitney Stadium also hosts the 86 Ventures Bowl every December.

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