Updated: 8:05 p.m.
MOBILE, Ala. - Zeke Bratkowski came to visit his son here this week at the Under Armour Senior Bowl and ended up bringing a chunk of history.
Bratkowski, the 79-year-old father of Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, was the South's starting quarterback in its loss to the North in the '54 Senior Bowl and at first blush not much has changed as he surveyed the scene at Ladd Peebles Stadium.
"This is where we played. It's familiar, but that press box wasn't there," Bratkowski said of the tallest structure in the facility that is used primarily for high school football. "It was grass (not turf) and it's the same look. A lot of coaches and scouts were there, but there seemed to be a lot more teams from Canada."
But times have changed. Even though he was drafted out of Georgia in the second round by the Bears in 1953, Bratkowski chose to stay at Georgia for his senior year and led the nation in passing and punting, and when he came to Mobile the Bears still had his rights. When a Chicago line coach falsely accused him of signing with a Canadian Football League team, Bratkowski got a call from Bears owner George Halas down at Mobile telling him to be "a good boy," and to stick with the Bears.
"I got a $1,500 bonus," said Bratkowski, who went 4-1 in five starts as a rookie before he served a three-year hitch in the Air Force. "When I came back (1957), I would have cut me. Missing (two) years makes you rusty."
But he went on to play 15 years before coaching 26 seasons in the league and was best known as Vince Lombardi's backup quarterback on the Packers' first two Super Bowl champs. Yet he still remembers the dirt practice field with dangerous ruts as well as the lobby of the Mobile hotel where the players stayed for that '54 Senior Bowl and where he first met Cleveland coach Paul Brown, his opposing coach that week.
"He knew me and came up to me and told me, 'You're the South quarterback and I'm the North quarterback,' because he was calling the plays from the sidelines and I was calling them on the field," Bratkowski said. "He was just what I heard he was. He had a coat and tie and hat and we talked a little."
It sure was a different time. Brown was less than a month removed from an 11-1 season in which Cleveland lost to the Lions in the NFL championship game, 17-16, but he liked coaching the game for the same reason Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis likes to get to know this year's prospects. Bratkowski's coach was Steve Owen after his last season coaching the Giants, but he wasn't very helpful to the scouts by switching his players' jerseys.
"I wore an offensive lineman's shirt. No. 62. And he wore mine and of course my No. 12 was kind of tight on him," Bratkowski said.
By the way, Bratkowski spent 17 years playing and coaching in Green Bay and is thrilled the Pack is back in the Super Bowl. His top memory of Super Bowl I is still clear.
"How we felt we were representing the NFL and how Coach Lombardi was so concerned about that. That was not a fun week of practice," Bratkowski said. "He got calls from other NFL owners during the week and it was probably a good thing. We didn't know much about Kansas City and we only had a week to prepare for their different fronts that we weren't used to seeing. They were a good team with a good front and linebackers."
LAST LINK: The NFL's last link to Blakemania passed into history Thursday when Jeff Fisher ended his NFL-long 17 seasons as the Titans head coach.
Quarterback Jeff Blake and the Bengals gave Fisher his shot back on Nov. 13, 1994 at Riverfront Stadium when he rung up 354 yards and four touchdown passes in a 34-31 win over the Houston Oilers in his third NFL start. Blake climbed off a cart with an injured ankle in the fourth quarter and steered the Bengals to Doug Pelfrey's last-snap field goal from 40 yards.
After wide receiver Carl Pickens had 188 yards on 11 catches, Oilers cornerback Cris Dishman uttered the infamous "I apologize to my teammates, my family, and the entire city of Houston," and the next morning Jack Pardee was out as the Oilers head coach and his defensive coordinator, Fisher, was in.
That's the year all three Bengals wins came on last-snap Pelfrey field goals and all three losing coaches lost their jobs: Pardee, Seattle's Tom Flores, and Philadelphia's Rich Kotite. Pardee and Kotite were let go within 18 hours of the kick.
Lewis is now tied with Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio as the AFC's second most senior coach with one club as they head into their ninth seasons while New England's Bill Belichick moves into his 12th. Andy Reid, moving into his 13th season with the Eagles, is now the senior man.
FALL, RISE…: The draft has turned into a jock version of the New York Stock Exchange with the value of prospects jumping up and down and up again with daily scrutiny.
Take Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, one of three North quarterbacks with whom the Bengals are working this week. He's hot now with some scouts claiming he's making a run at the first round, and this is before he even plays Saturday, goes to next month's scouting combine, and his pro day the month after that.
It depends who you talk to.
Kaepernick made a throw Thursday that shows his intriguing potential. On a bootleg the athletically-gifted 6-4 Kaepernick floated a beauty down the sideline to the tight end with the great touch he lacks consistently. He's got great arm strength with a rocket up his sleeve, but it's not always in the right place with the right pace. In the red zone drill he smoked a laser that could only hit the padding of the end-zone stands with a thud.
One NFL scout said his combination of 4.47 40-speed and high intelligence is "interesting." But the cout says Kaepernick is not ready to play next season (he's taken few snaps under center in the pistol formation) and the hope is he could be groomed while watching for two years.
"There's no first-round quarterback here," said the scout, citing Washington quarterback Jake Locker's erratic passing and senior year of struggles.