Bowen analyzes football: preps to pros

Bowen analyzes football: preps to pros
January 9, 2013, 1:01 am
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Matt Bowen, you are the new owner of an NFL franchise. You have more money than Bill Gates. Who is your first hire and why? Second hire? Third?

"Quarterback," Bowen said. "I want to make sure I have a quarterback before I get a coach. You can't win in the NFL without a quarterback. Outside of Chicago, all of the coaches who were fired last week were fired because they didn't have a quarterback. You need a leader on offense and in the locker room that everyone looks up to."

Bowen was an All-State quarterback at Glenbard West, an All-Big Ten strong safety at Iowa and played for seven years in the NFL with the Rams, Packers, Redskins and Bills. Now he is football analyst for Comcast SportsNet, the National Football Post and several other media outlets.

He knows the game. He believes you didn't have to play the game to understand it. His role is to teach the game, to entertain, to show viewers and readers why it happened and how it happened, to go deeper than X's and O's and instant replay.

"I wouldn't have lasted seven years in the NFL if I didn't study. And that applies to high school, college and the pros. It's the same game," Bowen said. "I want to give fans a different and deeper perspective of the game. Some are turned on by it and some aren't. I wanted to take something from my experience."

Bowen's experience taught him that quarterback is the most important position in football, not coach or general manager or left offensive tackle or running back.

He was a very good high school quarterback. As a senior, he passed for 1,533 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 1,329 yards and 17 touchdowns for a 6-4 team. Hayden Fry and one-time Heisman Trophy runner-up Chuck Long recruited him to play quarterback at Iowa. But he soon learned how good you have to be to play at the highest levels.

"I quarterbacked the scout team as a freshman," Bowen recalled. "Then I was converted to defensive back. I met with Chuck Long. He said: 'Do you want to play on Sundays? You won't do it as a quarterback.' They knew if I would be successful in college, I would be a defensive back."

Bowen is quick to point out that the best NFL teams he ever played for were led by outstanding quarterbacks--Kurt Warner, Brett Favre and Mark Brunell.

"There are only 32 quarterback jobs in the world and half of them get replaced every year," he said. "If you are in the top 16, you are special, someone who gets it done on the field."

Bowen's second hire as the new owner of an NFL franchise?

"General manager, someone who doesn't miss, a good talent evaluator, someone like Ted Thompson of the Packers or Tom Dimitroff of the Falcons," Bowen said. "Then I would tell the general manager to hire the coach that he wants. That would be my third hire."

Bowen spent time in Washington, D.C., with Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who wants to be involved in all football issues and decisions, as Jerry Jones with the Cowboys. "That isn't the way to do it," he said.

"Let the general manager hire the coach. Of course, the owner has final approval. But let the general manager do his homework and do his job. Let him decide who will fit your style and personnel.

"And let the coach hire the position coaches, the offensive and defensive coordinators. That is so important. They are gold. That's how you get better as a player, by working with the tight end coach, the offensive line coach, the defensive back coach, the special teams coach.

"And, finally, build a great training facility, the best one that your money can buy, the best there is, like Baltimore...a weight room, training room, locker room, film room, indoor practice facility."

The game has changed dramatically since Bowen was growing up in Glen Ellyn and recalling the tradition of Glenbard West football, the Bill Duchon era and Jim Covert's 1991 team that finished 10-1 and included Craig Williams, Darren Dunlap and Billy Harris. He was a three-sport athlete who thought he was a better baseball player but couldn't shake an undying passion for football.

"There was something about football...the team aspect, the game day aspect," Bowen said. "When you are born, you can hit or you can't hit. You can't teach hitting. I felt if I could hit I could compete.

"Specialization is baloney. Kids should play every sport and experience different coaching. The different movements are huge with the development of an athlete.

"Football was the thing for me. I wanted to be those guys at Glenbard West who walked down the hill. When I was a freshman, I wanted to be like the 1991 team. I wanted to be those guys.

"I knew the tradition, that it was like being a pro in Glen Ellyn, being on the varsity football team. That's what everybody wanted to be, a Hilltopper, a hitter. Playing on Duchon Field is like playing in Wrigley Field."

But what happens when it is all over, when you no longer are good enough or fast enough or young enough to play a kid's game, when an assistant coach tells you to report to the head coach and bring along your playbook? For Bowen, the release date was March 1, 2007.

"I had opportunities to continue to play," Bowen said. "At that time, my wife and I had our first of three sons, Matthew, who has Down Syndrome. He was starting therapy. Should I leave him to cover kicks for another year? It was time to do something else. There is a time when you have to start looking at your future. It was a perfect time for me to grow up and be a big boy.

"The toughest part when you hang it up is when you are thrown back into real life. It no longer is the fantasy life of pro football. The first thing you realize is you are in your 30s and you don't have a job yet. For some, it is hard to find something to do. It was an adjustment. The first NFL Sunday, when I was watching a game on TV, I was in a daze, not being part of a team."

Bowen's wife had a good game plan. "Why don't you go back to school?" she suggested. He enrolled at DePaul to study for a masters degree in journalism, specifically writing and reporting. He quickly learned that his football clippings didn't mean anything in the classroom.

"The professors don't care that you played pro football," he said. "If you don't do you work, you don't get grades. I wanted to get adjusted to life after football. It was another challenge. I wanted to be a good writer."

After obtaining his degree in 2009, Bowen has written for the Sun-Times, Tribune, National Football Post and Washington Examiner and articulated his views on many TV and radio shows, including Comcast's Chicago Tribune Live, WGN, Boers & Bernstein on WSCR.

"The game was tougher back then...high school, college and pro. They were more physical," he said. "I can understand why it isn't now with players, parents, coaches and trainers so worried about concussions. Back then, we didn't worry about it.

"And the game has changed. It is more wide open, more athletic. Offenses are multiple, creative, wild. Stuff you used to draw up in the sand is making its way into the NFL. Everybody in the NFL used to try to be Peyton Manning. But it isn't that way anymore. Now it's all about athletes...bigger, faster, stronger, leaner."

At Glenbard West, Bowen ran a veer option with two tight ends, two running backs and one wide receiver. There were three coaches on the varsity level, not 12 as is the case today.

"But some things never change," he said. "As a sophomore, I was told to hit the blocking sled. 'But I'm the quarterback,' I said. 'The whole team hits the sled,' I was told. The best teams hit. They are technicians. But looking at tackling on all levels today. It isn't what it used to be. Defenses are scared of option offenses."

Bowen relished an invitation to participate in the telecast of the Class 7A and 8A high school championships last November. When he accepted the offer, he had no idea that his alma mater would be playing in the Class 7A final. He felt like he was wearing his green and white uniform with the big G on his helmet. Once a Hilltopper, always a Hilltopper.

"It brought back a lot of memories," he said. "Mount Carmel (the Class 8A champion) ran a veer option. Their execution was so smooth. They dont make mistakes. (Quarterback) Don Butkus reminded me of Darren Dunlap, great football awareness.

"(Glenbard North's) Justin Jackson can be a Big Ten player. He reminds me of Eddie George, up and down, powerful, doesn't take a lot of hits. Glenbard West showed so much speed on defense. They are so well-coached. When you do everything right, read your keys, play at a 4.4 pace, it's like watching Notre Dame football and an SEC defense."

He still can't forget his team's 31-20 loss to Naperville Central in the opening round of the Class 6A playoff in 1994.

"It was disappointing," said Bowen, who played on two 6-4 teams. "We all look back and feel we could have done it better. There still are games I think about that bother me, like two last-second losses to Downers Grove North as a junior and senior.

"And the playoff game against Naperville Central and (Player of the Year) Tim Lavery. I threw a deep ball to Hasani Steele for a touchdown. But we lost. What could we have done differently?"

Almost 20 years later, he still is trying to figure it out.