Block Affair Bounces Back Well From Recent Obstacles
34th ANNUAL CELEBRATION MARKS RETURNS TO NORMALCY
By Joe Platania
As well-known and highly regarded as the Ed Block Courage Awards Foundation's annual Martin's West gala is, it has had a few clouds hovering over it during recent years.
The Philadelphia Eagles' controversial 2009 selection of Michael Vick as their honoree sparked protests outside the banquet hall. A disgruntled former Block employee levied misappropriations charges against the organization, which were ultimately unfounded. Last year, the gala was held a few days before the NFL lockout began.
But, in keeping with this month's unseasonably warm weather, the sun shone again on the organization and its good works at the 34th annual banquet Tuesday night.
"It's back to normal, at least as normal can be," said Sam Lamantia Jr., the Block Foundation founder, chairman of the board and CEO, who was honored with a standing ovation from the crowd of approximately 1,100 people. "The economy is still against us.
"We're coming back. We're getting newer sponsors. If I would ask God for anything, it's that if anyone read, heard or became a part of those things that went against us regarding the accusations that were not true, would come back."
The league as a whole came back to normalcy this week with the opening of the free-agent signing period and new league year coinciding with the annual Block affair. Last year, such business could not be conducted until late July, because of the lockout.
For the Block honorees, the yearly two-day gathering featured the usual Monday-morning tour of the Chick Webb Recreation Center in Baltimore City as well as Tuesday's trip to the St. Vincent's Villa Courage House in Timonium before culminating at the banquet.
Once the event began, the Foundation's Courage Network of housing assistance for abused and neglected children grew when the San Diego Chargers Courage House (Casa de Amparo) was dedicated.
That came on the heels of last year's spectacular dual announcement, when Kansas City Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt committed to establishing a Courage House in that city; not to be outdone, his brother Britton made the same pledge toward doing the same in Denver.
Once that trio of facilities is opened, most likely within two years, it will bring the total number of Courage Houses to 24. The Foundation’s goal is to open a Courage House in all 32 cities where NFL teams currently play.
Other entities honored during the evening included Word Smith Media Ventures and PressBox, recipient of one of the 2011 Sponsors Awards of Excellence.
The Baltimore Sports Media Hall of Fame, which does not conduct yearly inductions, did add someone to its ranks in the person of perennial Block gala master of ceremonies Scott Garceau, who has covered sports in Baltimore since 1980 for WMAR-TV (Channel 2) and WJZ-FM (105.7, The Fan).
Garceau was the first person inducted into that body since University of Maryland play-by-play announcer Johnny Holliday in 2006.
As with every other team, the Ravens' players voted among themselves in November to elect a representative to the Block affair, which this year turned out to be long snapper Morgan Cox (comments regarding courage from Cox and other honorees are included at the end of this article).
Other profiles in courage included that of Houston Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, on hand to receive the Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers of America's honor as the league's top assistant coach.
It's an award won previously by the Ravens' Rex Ryan (2006) and Marvin Lewis (2000), as well as Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator and eventual Ravens head coach Brian Billick (1998).
Phillips had to miss two games during the team's December stretch run toward its first-ever division title and playoff berth for kidney and gall bladder surgery. Even though he coached through the team's two-game postseason -- including a Divisional Round loss in Baltimore -- he never felt 100 percent until he and his Texans coaching mates were done working the Pro Bowl.
Also, the Green Bay Packers training staff was presented with the league's annual Athletic Training Staff of the Year award. During the 2010 season, the eventual Super Bowl XLV champions had to deal with 15 players on season-ending injured reserve, a group that missed a combined total of 90 games.
But perhaps the most heartwarming and inspirational trio in attendance were Special Courage Award recipients Army Ranger Matthew Eversmann, Matthew Costello and Mike Utley.
Eversmann's exploits with the Rangers in Mogadishu were immortalized in the movie "Black Hawk Down," a portion of which was shown at the gala. Costello, the son of WMAR-TV news anchor Jamie Costello, has recovered from an inoperable brain tumor and formed a bond with Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
"(When I first met Matthew), I thought, 'There's something to this kid,' " Cameron said. "He's really positive. He's really upbeat. He's never blinked. He's never been down.
"(Then), the play-calling discussion started."
Matthew Costello has helped call plays for Cameron in the past; one of them resulted in Ray Rice's 83-yard touchdown run early during the first quarter of the 2009 Divisional Playoff at New England, the second-longest run in league postseason history and one that sparked the Ravens to a 24-point first quarter and a big win.
Utley suffered paralyzing injuries to his sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae while playing guard for the Detroit Lions against the Los Angeles Rams on Nov. 17, 1991, at the Pontiac Silverdome. He won worldwide renown for his "thumbs-up" gesture, which he flashed from his stretcher on his way off the field.
This year’s theme for the gala was "Inspired By Courage." Here are what five of the Block honorees had to say about that following the gala.
New England Patriots
A backup offensive lineman, Cannon was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in April 2011, before the team even drafted him during the fifth round as the 138th overall pick. But the team stuck by him, placed him on the non-football injury list and activated him in November after his treatments had been completed.
"Courage means a lot of things to me. It means being strong, overcoming obstacles in the face of fear. It just means everything to me.
"I talked to my teammates about it and coach (Bill) Belichick talked to them about it, so they were well aware of it. The guys are really close to me and were really good about it. If anybody should win (the Block award), it should be them. I'm thankful for the award.
"(Belichick) is very compassionate. What you see on the outside is one thing. You have to meet him and talk to him before you make any assumptions."
A defensive tackle, Patterson collapsed on the Eagles' training-camp field Aug. 3 with an arteriovenous malformation on his brain, a tangle of blood vessels. Remarkably, he was able to return to full-scale workouts just 17 days later after consulting with four different doctors and a seizure specialist.
"Courage just means someone who's brave and is able to fight through any struggles they happen to be going through. Not necessarily having any fear of the situation, but is able to overcome it.
"When I first knew about it, I didn't know what would happen, but when the doctors explained the situation, they said I would still be able to play football.
"I was kind of surprised to win the award. I wasn't really thinking about it. I knew what it meant, and was pretty excited to be here."
A University of Maryland quarterback alumnus, Hill went through a laundry list of frustrating events, such as a broken left forearm, a broken throwing-hand index finger, a ruptured disk in his lower back and the loss of his father.
"You have to believe that you will get out from under all that and that perseverance will pay off. But there's certain times when you doubt that and question it. You just have to have the determination to work through it.
"I'm just very honored to be chosen for this award by my teammates. It's very humbling and I'm very honored to be associated with this award."
Despite tearing a knee ligament during a late-season 2010 win in Cleveland, Cox remained in the game and continued his long-snapping duties before being placed on injured reserve. Diligent offseason rehabilitation work resulted in him winning his job back in 2011, despite the fact that teams often change long snappers more readily than players at most other positions.
"Courage, to me, is about the kids (at St. Vincent's and Chick Webb) and seeing what they go through. It tears your heart up, but you see their resilience and how they battle through so many different things.
"In terms of football, courage is leaning on your teammates and knowing you're going to be there for your teammates. That's really what I tried to do that day (in Cleveland).
"Fortunately, a lot of my snapping is done with my arms, so getting through a torn ACL was just a matter of getting down in my stance. Once I got down in my stance, everything was fine. I got a lot of help from my teammates."
Defensive coordinator, Houston Texans
(see main article for details on his surgery)
"You just do what you can do, but sometimes you have things that hold you back a bit. I was actually really lucky they found what they found and did the things they did. I was only out for a couple of weeks.
"I had to sit down (during the playoff game in Baltimore), so I don't normally do that. I didn't have to play in that game, but I thought we played well and our guys gave a really great effort.
"I'm actually a lot better now. It took a month to really get all my energy back. I took a couple of weeks off."
Posted March 14, 2012