SAN ANTONIO - What has become the most watched national high school all-star game in the world started ten years ago as the mere vision of a sports fan named Rich McGuiness.
After playing football all the way through his senior year of college at Santa Clara, the affable McGuiness didn't have the talent to continue playing pro ball but still had a desire to impact the game he loved.
"I kept watching the McDonald's All-American game," recalled McGuiness. "It was such a great showcase with the top basketball guys in high school like Kobe, Shaquille and Michael Jordan. I knew I wanted to do the same thing for football."
As a lawyer and the president and founder of Sports Link, McGuiness spent eight months getting permission from every state high school association in the country. With a total of 46 states, the first All-American Bowl was played in 2001.
Held in Dallas, the list of players was impressive, with NFL stars like Derek Anderson, Tommie Harris, and Kevin Jones. If only the other aspects of the game could have gone as smoothly.
"Every possible scenario that you didn't want to happen, happened," he said. "A snow storm hit on day one, so six kids arrived and 76 kids were stranded for at least a day. It wasn't that good of a game either."
The U.S. Army had different feelings with the product Sports Link put together. A month later, they were on the phone with McGuiness.
"They said they loved what they saw and felt there was a lot more we could do together. They loved the demographics and the match up between Army values and football. We met up and the game moved from Dallas to San Antonio."
Since the Army has become the main sponsor, the coverage has gone from Fox Sports Net to ESPN to its current home, NBC. The attendance at the game has increased from 3,500 in year one to more than 38,000 people who fill the Alamodome. The combination of Sports Link and the U.S. Army has proved to be special.
"At the heart of the event is the young male who's 17 or 18 years old that plays football," McGuiness said. "I think that everything that 'he' goes through is what a soldier goes through. I think we're mirroring in many ways all the steps that an Army soldier goes through and the values of leadership, teamwork, duty and self respect. It's such a great synergy that both groups are after and it's an easy fit."
As if the U.S. Army Bowl Game and the collective 11 months that McGuiness spends on the event wasn't enough, Sports Link is now ready to conquer a whole new avenue in youth sports.
"Based on our observations of seeing these kids here, sometimes they're physically gifted, but not always technically sound. Some of them have been getting by on their physical skills only. My next couple of years will be devoted to Football University as we look to train these young athletes, starting in the 7th and 8th grade and getting them great NFL instruction directly from some of the great NFL coaches of our time."
Football University traveled to 18 cities last year and looks forward to making stops at 30 different locations in 2009. To help promote the advancement in the skills of future playmakers, the U.S. Army Bowl will have its first 7th and 8th grade all-star game Sunday.
"The roster for that game includes Karl Malone's kid, Ray Lewis' kid and some really wild and freaky athletes," McGuiness said. "Our goal now is to connect the U.S. Army game all the way down to the young athlete that shows himself really early and stay with them throughout the next four or five years when they get here so that they can be both physically gifted and technically skilled. That's kind of my next two or three years as I grill this out."
The U.S. Army Bowl game was initially the starting point. Now that McGuiness and Sports Link are targeting even younger generations, it's apparent that this game may soon become more like the final destination of a prep athlete's high school career.