When it comes to football, he’s the force behind The Ride and the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
These days Rich McGuinness ’89 seems to score with every touch of the football. The sports impresario built a mini-empire out of the gridiron dreams of high school players across the country—complete with a reality show and a nationally televised bowl game.
But in his days at Santa Clara, McGuinness struggled to catch a break. A walk-on wide receiver, McGuinness was quick but not the quickest, good but not the best. Nobody wanted it more, though. Back in New Jersey for Christmas during his junior year, he decided to get help from the top. He jumped the fence at Giants Stadium to lay in wait for Phil McConkey, an undersized receiver then starring for the New York Giants.
“He was about my size and my athletic ability,” McGuinness recalls, “and he made it to the pros.”
McGuinness got McConkey’s number and they spent hours talking about how the junior could hone his techniques. A herniated disk stopped McGuinness from ever using the advice, but the conversation stayed with him, cementing one belief in particular: Great ones are made, not born.
That notion informs the latest of McGuinness’s football properties—Football University, a series of three-day camps held around the country, which connects promising 6th- to 12th-graders with some of the game’s most storied insiders. Coaches have included Tom Martinez, Tom Brady’s personal trainer; Super Bowl coach Sam Wyche; and McConkey himself, who says the camps are a world away from the instruction he received growing up. Some 4,000 kids attend each year, the best of whom may one day play in the centerpiece event of McGuinness’s football empire: the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas.
The bowl is an annual arrival party for some of the top high school seniors in the land. Since its inception in 2000, the all-star game has served as a national coming out for more than 100 future NFL picks, including megawatt talents like Adrian Peterson, Reggie Bush, and Michael Oher, the subject of The Blind Side. Like most all-star games, the action on the field is often secondary to the hoopla off of it. Many blue-chip recruits use the game to finally reveal their collegiate intentions. In 2010, McGuinness upped the hype, dangling a spot in the game in front of eight quarterbacks competing on The Ride, a reality-television show that the New York Times dubbed the “American Idolof prep sports.” A second season aired last fall.
When McGuinness and a partner launched the first All-American bowl in Dallas in 2000, it was a bust. Only about 1,500 people showed up; the company they’d founded went $500,000 in debt, and McGuinness had no money to pay his one employee—his sister.
But the future quickly brightened. The U.S. Army liked what it saw, signing up as the game’s chief sponsor, which brought millions of dollars and an instant level of credibility. The game went from a high school field to the Alamodome, where Airborne soldiers rappelled down with the game ball. This year, 37,893 saw the game in person and nearly 2 million tuned in on NBC.
Some people aren’t as comfortable putting so much attention on high school sports, but McGuinness says he’s not trying to reach the casual athlete. His focus is on the players who eat, breathe, and dream football. Like the kid who jumped the fence at Giants Stadium.