NFLPA will take over L.A. next month

The newly installed astroturf and goal posts at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Ca. Arash Markazi for ESPNLosAngeles.com

CARSON, Calif. – The NFL Players Association will be bringing more than just the first-ever AstroTurf NFLPA Collegiate Bowl to Los Angeles next month, they will also be staging their annual award show and a rookie symposium in the city as well.

The game, which will take place Jan. 21 at the Home Depot Center, will be open to all draft-eligible players and serve as the culmination of a week of practices and events in Los Angeles when current and former NFL players will work with top NFL draft prospects on what will be expected of them on and off the field in the league.

ESPNLosAngeles.com first reported news of the game last month.

The game will be televised live on the NBC Sports Network, which will be re-branded from Versus on Jan. 2.

Prior to the game on Jan. 20, the NFLPA will hold their annual PULSE Awards at the Club Nokia at L.A. Live. The event is normally held during Super Bowl week at the host site and honors active and former NFL players. Some of the presenters lined up for the event this year include Joe Manganiello, Ed Asner, Jaime Pressly, Holly Robinson Peete and Hill Harper.

The game is expected to draw 100 of the country's top NFL draft prospects, who will be split into two teams coached by Dick Vermeil and Tom Flores. It will be the first time Vermeil and Flores have faced each other in a game since Super Bowl XV, when Flores' Oakland Raiders beat Vermeil's Philadelphia Eagles 27-10.

Former players such as Kevin Mawae and Tony Richardson will serve as assistant coaches while IMG will take players through the business of football. Last year the NFLPA moved its rookie symposium from Washington, D.C. to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. after the NFL lockout. All NFL draft picks will go through the annual symposium organized by the NFL to educate rookies on life as a professional football player in June but attendees of the NFLPA’s game will get a head start on the process.

“We wanted to give an opportunity to young men to be showcased so they can move onto the business of football if they so chose,” said NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith. “This is to give players an opportunity to play. If they choose to play in our game, great, we believe the things we will be providing our players are unique. We believe the partnership with IMG is an important aspect that looks at a player beyond just someone who can just run, jump, catch and throw.”

The players for the game will arrive in Los Angeles on Jan. 16 for a week of practices before the game, much like the Senior Bowl is run in Mobile, Ala. The biggest difference is the NFLPA's event also will be open to underclassmen who have entered their name into the draft.

“The opportunity for young men who want to declare to go into the draft early is one that’s been around for awhile,” Smith said. “For those young men who wanted to declare, we wanted to provide those players with a showcase opportunity to do so without barriers.”

Since the game will be open to underclassmen applying for the draft, players such as USC quarterback Matt Barkley and offensive lineman Matt Kalil, who are projected to be taken in the top 10 of next year's NFL draft as juniors, would have the ability to play one last game at home and experience playing in a "bowl game" after USC was banned from the postseason the past two seasons.

The location of the game and the awards show is noteworthy to anyone following the ongoing saga of the NFL's possible return to Los Angeles. Home Depot Center and Club Nokia are owned and operated by AEG, which wants to build Farmers Field, a 68,000-seat football stadium in downtown Los Angeles. The NFLPA also will hold some of its week-long events at L.A. Live, which also is owned and operated by AEG, and is across the street from the proposed Farmers Field site.

The NFL hasn't held a game of any kind in Los Angeles since the Raiders and Rams left the city in 1994. Smith said the NFL’s return to Los Angeles was an issue discussed during the collective bargaining negotiations this offseason between NFL owners and players. He wouldn’t get into specifics of the talks but admitted both groups want the league to return to the city.

“I love the city of Los Angeles,” Smith said. “We have one of the largest former player chapters in this city. We would love to have and long to have a relationship with Los Angeles. Having an opportunity to host this game in Los Angeles and to be the first group to bring a collegiate all-star game to this great city hopefully we can serve in some small way of bringing football back here.”

AstroTurf will install a brand new synthetic surface for the game, which will be removed and sold following the game. In planning for the event, AstroTurf and The Home Depot Center arranged the installation of the field prior to the CIF State Football Championship Bowl Games Dec. 16 and 17.

The Home Depot Center’s sod removal began last month and the installation of the new AstroTurf field will be completed by Friday. It will be the first time a synthetic turf has ever been installed at the Home Depot Center, which opened in 2002.

NFLPA assistant executive director Clark Gaines said the Home Depot Center, which seats 27,000 fans and is the home of the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA of Major League Soccer, was perfect for the game as over 90,000-seat stadiums like the Rose Bowl and Coliseum were far too large.