Wed., Mar. 10: Redemption, Courage Highlight Block Affair
VICK PLEADS CASE; HONOREES DEFINE COURAGE
By Joe Platania
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
This year's Ed Block Courage Awards Banquet provided a stark study in contrasts.
On one hand, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick steadfastly contended that he has turned his life around since his imprisonment on federal dogfighting chargers.
On the other, Vick and the rest of the NFL honorees present at the 32nd annual affair Tuesday night at Martin's West felt fortunate to have overcome their own adversity while inspiring abused and neglected children to do the same.
|Sage Steele interviews Michael Vick at the Ed Block Banquet. (Sabina Moran/PressBox)
As expected, roughly 100 anti-Vick protestors lined the streets outside the banquet hall, wanting to remind those attending the dinner why the former Atlanta Falcons signal-caller was in jail for two years.
Vick and the other 31 spotlighted players were nominated in a vote by their teammates to represent them at the annual affair, named after former Baltimore Colts trainer Ed Block.
Because of Vick's presence, a hastily-arranged pre-banquet news conference was almost a necessity for Vick and the Humane Society of the United States to let the public know where they stand.
"I think I do exemplify what the (Ed Block Courage) award stands for," Vick said. "Everybody has a right to their opinion. My teammates felt I displayed courage, sportsmanship and leadership.
"I didn't do things right the first time around. I was involved with things I shouldn't have been involved with."
Vick and the other Block winners took part in the annual banquet-eve visit to St. Vincent's Courage House in Timonium, but Vick has also had other business to attend to in the wake of his post-prison experience.
"Michael approached the Humane Society and asked to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem," HSUS executive vice-president Michael Markarian said. "He's gone to cities all over the country and talked to groups of at-risk kids of mostly young men and tried to steer them away from dogfighting.
"There was a young man in Durham, North Carolina, who had bought three pit bulls and was going to train them to fight. After hearing Michael's story, he decided not to do it."
Vick is slated to help dedicate the 21st Courage House in Philadelphia, which would leave 11 NFL cities without such places for abused children to get help. However, plans are in the works for Courage House facilities to exist in all 32 NFL markets, which is the Block Foundation's goal.
For his part, the 29-year-old Vick feels that his mistakes are a part of his own personal evolution.
"You're always a work in progress," he said. "You never know it all."
Another inspiring story took place during the banquet itself, as Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer received his Pro Football Weekly Assistant Coach of the Year Award, voted on by members of the Pro Football Writers Association (full disclosure: this reporter included).
Zimmer's wife, Vicki, passed away during the season, just three days before the Bengals were to play at Baltimore. Zimmer believed his wife would have wanted him to coach the game.
Not only did Zimmer work that Sunday, his players rallied around him in a 17-14 win over the Ravens.
The San Diego Chargers training staff won the Athletic Training Staff of the Year award and Dallas Cowboys assistant Joe DeCamillis won a special Courage Award after surviving the collapse of the team's training facility last May.
But when all the protests, controversy, glitz, glamour and good wishes of the evening were stripped away, several NFL notables in attendance were asked a relevant question, "What does courage mean to you?"
Here's what they had to say:
(Merriman, a former University of Maryland linebacker, has been one of the league's most dominating linebacker presences. However, the San Diego Chargers standout had to come back from multiple knee-ligament injuries that sidelined him for all of 2008.)
"Courage is basically having the ability to overcome things, that's how I look at it. It's about knocking down roadblocks and obstacles, and that's what it means to me.
"To go to (St. Vincent's) and spend time with the kids, (NFL players) get more out of it than they do. When we go there, we expect to be a change of pace in these kids lives. We tell them there's a brighter side to what they're going through."
(The fifth consecutive defensive back to represent the Baltimore Ravens at the Block affair, Landry suffered a spinal cord concussion while trying to tackle Jamal Lewis in 2008. Despite that, he played all 16 games last year and was second on the team in tackles while breaking up 11 passes and picking off four.)
"(Courage is) just being responsible enough to (account for) your actions, just doing everything to the best of your ability. (Getting the award) show my teammates think a lot of me as a player and a person.
"I was like a kid again when we were visiting the kids. Seeing their eyes light up and watching them interact with the players, we were just having fun."
(The former Maryland linebacker has had parts of the last two seasons slowed by foot and leg injuries, respectively. But Henderson has helped the Minnesota Vikings be a consistent contender in the NFC North Division.)
"I think of courage, I think of determination, the fight and the drive to continue on through whatever obstacles are put in your way. Whether it be injuries or family problems, it's about being able to fight through them and being able to maintain your goals.
"I'm three months out from my broken leg, but (modern training methods) always give you hope. Current medicine has come a long way."
(The Green Bay Packers safety had a lot to deal with before the '09 season began: his father's death from prostate cancer, the birth of his third child and the Packers' switch to a 3-4 defense.)
"(The award) was a total surprise. I thought (linebacker) Nick Barnett was going to be the guy. He had a knee injury last year and came back this year and played the way he did.
"It's been tough. I'm still in that stage of disbelief, but at the same time, I have a good (support system). My teammates, my wife, family, they're all by my side and I feel I can get through whatever I'm going through.
"You can't sum courage up in one big word. It's something you show with your heart and effort."
(Iwebema had to be literally pulled off the field during an Arizona Cardinals walk-through to be told that a X-ray revealed a germ cell tumor between his chest wall and heart. Eight weeks later, he was back on the field.)
"I don't necessarily know (what courage is). Until I heard about Ed Block, I wasn't thinking it was a courageous thing to come back from this. But to do anything, you have to work through it.
"But it was the most scared and devastated I've been. I didn't take as seriously as I should have at first, but when I was told what it really was, it was a scary experience. It's something I've learned from, you have to take care of yourself."
(The former Ravens and Denver Broncos tackle worked as Chicago's team chaplain before returning to Baltimore as the assistant player development director. That puts him directly under OJ Brigance, the classy, well-liked former Ravens and CFL Stallions linebacker currently fighting Lou Gehrig's disease. This quote is from the 2008 Block banquet.)
"That's a pretty easy question (about courage), because I work with courage every day... Because of the way OJ has gone about his daily living, he's shown a very courageous effort.
"It takes some courage (for a chaplain) to walk into a locker room when sometimes, they don't want you there (laughs). The locker room is for the players, but for a chaplain to really help, he has to be around the players. We call it the scene of the crime (laughs)."