All the components were there for a spectacular presentation. Memorable, too. Not just another boring sports banquet that polluted the air and succeeded in rocking to sleep a large segment of the audience. This was an evening that offered tradition, hope, laughs, elegance and enjoyment. And it was XTC pulled together with excellent timing and extraordinary taste.
And how about the cause? Abused children. It was the 14th annual Ed Block Courage Awards gathering at Martin's West, which featured a gala collection of former Baltimore Colts, eight members of the Hall of Fame, a player from each of the present National Football League clubs and the chief executive officer of the Chicago Bears, one Edward McCaskey.
It was McCaskey who volunteered the information he is firmly committed to Baltimore as the foremost choice among the 10 expansion cities seeking franchises. The crowd roared its approval.
"Baltimore was always No. 1 with me," he said. "I love this city. It's like coming home." Then he related a conversation of only a week ago with Harry Gamble of the Philadelphia Eagles. "I asked him how he felt about Baltimore. And he replied he liked everything about it, even for selfish reasons. By that he meant a road trip to Baltimore for his team would be by bus and the Eagles would save a lot of money that would otherwise be spent on air fare."
So there was a vote for Baltimore, not one but two, and both coming unsolicited. McCaskey was present to receive a national grant from the sponsoring organization that will start a house for the protection of abused children in Chicago. "It was a terrific event," he commented. "My wife and I saw old friends and had a grand time, plus a great meal."
Then there was John Mackey, the latest Colt to enter the Hall of Fame, relating how he informed Pete Elliott, director of the hall, that he would not go to Indianapolis to receive the commemorative ring.
"I'm a Baltimore Colt," he announced. "What's an Indianapolis Colt? I told the Hall of Fame they could give me the ring at the exhibition game in Baltimore this summer but I wasn't going to Indianapolis. If not, then he could hand it to me at a restaurant having some crabs and beer."
The presentation will indeed be here, prior to the Miami Dolphins-New Orleans Saints exhibition on Aug. 26 in Memorial Stadium. Mackey's comments were followed with an enormous ovation that was surpassed only by the one for Mike Utley of the
Detroit Lions, who was pushed up the ramp to a simulated football field, miniature goal posts and all, which served as the staging area for the honorees and co-masters of ceremonies, Joe Knight and Scott Garceau.
Before Utley's appearance, there was John Elway, who explained again that the reason he didn't come here when drafted in 1983 was because of the coach and owner: "I was in position to do something about controlling where I was going to play and I did just that. Nothing against the wonderful people here tonight."
Elway, who was booed as no athlete ever has been on a playing visit to Baltimore with the Denver Broncos in 1983 because he had rejected the Colts, absolutely turned the listeners around with the way he reacted. Not a jeer was heard and, without a doubt, he dramatically altered the way he has been perceived, creating a highly favorable personal impression.
The courage award winners were in near awe of Utley, who was with his teammate and friend, Kevin Glover, the former Maryland center. Utley spoke briefly, introducing his parents and extending thanks to Baltimore for the way it treated him during the three-day visit. Finally, he tried to relate the story of a child who wrote a letter and said he was sorry Mike was hurt and, if he could, would switch legs so his hero would be able to walk again.
Utley wasn't able to complete the full message because of the personal emotion but the crowd came to its feet and acted as if it knew what he was going to say. Then his parents came to join him near the microphone and his mother made a point to thank all involved and said, "We have been overwhelmed with your kindness and hospitality."
Three Colt members of the Hall of Fame, namely John Unitas, Raymond Berry and Gino Marchetti, had other obligations out of the city and weren't able to be there. But coach Weeb Ewbank, Art Donovan, Lenny Moore, Jim Parker, Joe Perry, Ted Hendricks, Y.A. Tittle and Mackey, all Hall of Famers, were there.
So, too, was the highly accomplished Chuck Noll, headed for the Hall of Fame after stupendous success with the Pittsburgh Steelers; Rocky Bleier, formerly of the Steelers, Sean Landetta of the New York Giants, and David Shula, one of the NFL's newest coaches, who is in charge of the Cincinnati Bengals.
A historic touch was added when center Tom Goode, holder Earl Morrall and kicker Jim O'Brien came forth to simulate the winning field goal that gave the Colts victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V.