MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Every January for the last 70 years, National Football League coaches and scouts have descended on Mobile for the Senior Bowl. It is now an integral part of the pro football landscape, covered by more than a thousand media members, with practices carried live all week on national television. It has a multi-million dollar economic impact on the City of Mobile.
And none of that would be possible without the work of Rea Schuessler.
Schuessler will be posthumously inducted into the Mobile Sports Hall of Fame Thursday, May 2.
Schuessler came to Mobile in 1950 to run the new Ladd Stadium. A year later, the Mobile Arts and Sports Association brought the Senior Bowl to Mobile after its inaugural game in Jacksonville, Florida. Schuessler was put in charge of the game.
For the next 30 years, until his death in 1980, Schessler worked tirelessly to grow the game into the premier postseason all-star game in the country. He was a virtual one-man band: selecting players, selling tickets, and planning halftime events. Possibly most importantly, Schuessler created the first significant bridge between collegiate and professional football.
“For many in the NFL, Rea Schuessler was the Senior Bowl,” said Vic Knight, former longtime public relations director for the game and current manager of Ladd-Peebles Stadium. “Undoubtedly, the many genuine friendships that he developed with coaches and executives throughout the NFL proved vital in not only helping the Senior Bowl grow but survive when the game faced many challenges and obstacles.”
Knight says Schuessler’s achievements at the stadium should not be ignored.
“The venue routinely played host to premier events such as University of Alabama home football games, NFL exhibition games and shows featuring entertainers such as Elvis Presley,” Knight said. “His role in the fabric and history of sports and entertainment in Mobile is significant and should never be forgotten.”
A native of Lanett, Alabama, Schuessler served in the sports publicity department while a student at the University of Alabama. He graduated in 1942 and soon after joined the military. He was a B-29 tail gunner in World War Two. Schuessler was shot down and rescued in the Pacific and awarded the Air Medal and a Purple Heart.
Following the war, he returned to Tuscaloosa and the sports publicity department at the University of Alabama, before moving to Mobile. He died of cancer in May 1980.
Schuessler was inducted posthumously into the Senior Bowl Hall of Fame in 2002.
Joining Schuessler in the MSHF Class of 2019 are Luis Gonzalez, Danny Sheridan, Rick Trickett, Nyla Shepherd, and Roy Patton. The induction ceremony and banquet will be held Thursday at the Battle House Hotel. Tickets are $100 and are available at MobileSportsHallofFame.net