Friday, January 19, 2018

A Trip To Indiana, Part 2

The honorees stood together on the stage in the Sagamore Ballroom at the Indiana Convention Center, some with very familiar names and very well-known accomplishments and others whose names TigerBlog was hearing for the first time.

Together, this group of fewer than 20 people was making the other 1,000 people in the ballroom think the same thought: "Where in the world do people like this come from?"

As it turned out, the main man of the evening came from out of this world, but TigerBlog will get back to him.

TB actually wanted to start today with the person who impressed him the most at Wednesday night's banquet. He soon realized that would be impossible, since they all impressed him, and everyone else there, to an extraordinary degree.

Where would he start anyway? With the All-American volleyball player who organized an effort to bring free dental care to those who didn't have access to any? Or maybe the six-time NCAA track and cross country champion who figured she might as well earn a master's as well as a bachelor's from one of the best engineering schools in the country?

How about the Air Force Brigadier General, the former baseball player, whose current position has him overseeing the defense of South Korean and American lives in South Korea?

Or the former four-time Super Bowl quarterback who lost his son to a rare disease but who keeps his memory alive through a foundation that is relentlessly looking for cures, all, by the way, while he himself has had to battle cancer not once but twice? Or the former women's soccer star and current commentator whose mission has been to empower little girls to see the positive effects athletic participation can have? Or the former women's basketball player who prevented a massacre at a Republican congressional baseball practice, getting shot herself as she did so?

It went on like this for the better part of three hours, with just one incredible story after another, one incredible person after another. It left TB with no idea where to begin.

So he'll start with David Morrow. And why not? Morrow was the reason TigerBlog was in Indianapolis in the first place.

David Morrow was one of the recipients of the 2018 Silver Anniversary Award, which honors six former college athletes on the 25th anniversary of their graduation. The winners are selected for their performances as athletes as undergrads and then for what they have accomplished in their careers since.

Morrow was the 1993 NCAA men's lacrosse Player of the Year, and, 25 years later, he remains the last defensive player to earn that honor - and one of two all-time to do so. He was a two-time first-team All-America, and he helped lead Princeton to the first of its six NCAA championships as a junior in 1992.

TigerBlog has said this before, and he'll repeat it now. In all of his time at Princeton, he has never seen a more intense athlete than David Morrow. 

Also while at Princeton, Morrow, along with his father, invented the titanium lacrosse stick, something that completely revolutionized the sport. Rather than going through 20 or 30 plastic sticks in a season, now only one was necessary. As much as anything, that alone helped fuel the dramatic growth in the sport the last 25 years.

Morrow's stick design led to the birth of a company, Warrior Lacrosse, which is now a global enterprise. Now, 25 years later, Morrow has literally traveled the world bringing his passion - and intensity - to his business, as well as to the more than 70 charitable organizations to which he has given his money and time.

Morrow, by the way, became the first Princeton alum and fourth former men's lacrosse player from any school to win the award.

TB was the presenter for Morrow's award. His job was to walk out on the stage holding the trophy and then hold it up with Morrow. Then, while the evening host Jack Ford talked to the winner, TB would walk back off-stage with the trophy, which, he learned, would be shipped to Morrow's house.

Before the event began, TB said he hoped the night wasn't remembered for the time the Princeton presenter dropped the award. You know. You don't want to make the wrong kind of history.

TB didn't use those words. He didn't drop the trophy either.

Barry Wilmore did though, a little later on in the evening.

Wilmore - that's actually Captain Wilmore, a retired Naval officer - was the headliner for the evening. He won the Theodore Roosevelt Award, the NCAA's lifetime achievement award, and he would speak last - after the six Silver Anniversary Awards, the 10 Today's Top Ten winners (recognizing 10 recently graduated athletes for their all-around successes as undergraduates) and the winners of the Award of Valor (Crystal Griner, the U.S. Capitol police officer who stopped the shooter at the Congressional baseball practcie) and Inspiration Award (Jim Kelly, the former Buffalo Bills quarterback).

When Captain Wilmore spoke, he mentioned not wanting to make history for the wrong reason. His reference was to not accidentally letting go of the International Space Station and drifting off into space.

Wilmore played football at Tennessee Tech, going from being a walk-on to the team's MVP. He went on to fly combat missions in Desert Storm and then later pilot the space shuttle, not to mention his six months on the space station.

As he began his talk, Wilmore told the story about how on one of his space stations, he came around the back of a ventilation unit, one that was essentially a mirror on the backside. He looked in the mirror and saw himself. He looked out at the vastness of space in one direction and then at the incredible colors that came off the station itself. He had the thought that he was moving at five miles per second, orbiting the Earth once every 90 minutes. He could look down and see Hawaii.

And what was his thought? "How did I get here," he said.

The answer, from him and from all of the other honorees, was deeply connected to their college athletic experiences. Wilmore, whose message was both powerful and simple at the same time, concluded by saying that while he doesn't dream of being in space or dream of landing on an aircraft career again, he does dream that he could play college football just one more time.

The lessons that he learned - that they all learned - as college athletes continue to drive them. That was the common theme. How much being a college athlete meant to them, how much they learned from it, how they've taken from that experience lessons that they've drawn on as they've moved along in their lives.

After the ceremony, the award winners went outside the ballroom to a long hallway, where those in attendance could come and greet them. The line to meet Captain Wilmore was long, but TB stood it in anyway, to shake his hand and thank him. Captain Wilmore apologized for speaking for so long, but TB said not to worry, that he could have gone on for twice as long and the room would still have been mesmerized. It was one of the very best speeches TigerBlog has ever heard, given by one of the most impressive people you will ever meet. And TB is pretty sure he did the whole thing without any notes.

TB also said hello to Crystal Griner. She did something extraordinary, something that could have been life-ending, and yet she downplayed any talk that she might be a hero. She seemed uncomfortable in the spotlight, which only made what she did even more incredible.

After that, it was back to the hotel, for a post-banquet celebration. Bill Tierney, Morrow's coach at Princeton, came in from Denver to be there. Jake Steinfeld, who helped found Major League Lacrosse with Morrow, brought his huge personality to be there as well. So did Morrow's large family. Mollie Marcoux Samaan, the Ford Family Director of Athletics who was two years ahead of Morrow at Princeton, came to Indianapolis too.

And TigerBlog was there as well.

He first started to cover Princeton lacrosse when Morrow was a freshman, one who thought that he didn't belong and didn't want to play and even tried to leave the team. TigerBlog had a front-row seat for Morrow's evolution into one of the greatest college lacrosse players ever, and even now, all these years later, TB has never forgotten the way Morrow played the game, with his unmatched blend of grace, athleticism and ferocity.

It was TB's great honor to be the presenter as Morrow was honored Wednesday night.

Maybe TB couldn't tell you who was the most impressive award-winner in Indianapolis, but he can definitely tell you which one was his favorite.

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