A Night Out: NFL Players Gala

What: NFL Players Gala featuring the JB Awards

Where: Washington Hilton, International Ballroom

When: April 16

The day started with a morning football clinic at Catholic University’s Cardinal Stadium, where more than 75 local Special Olympic athletes got tips from NFL Player-honorees. The actual gala began with a cocktail hour and silent auction at 5 PM, and a dinner at 6 PM.

Cost: Tables of 10 were $5,000 each.

Beneficiary: Special Olympics District of Columbia. Celebrating its 40th year of service, SODC provides sports and fitness training, health screenings, and competitive outlets to local athletes with intellectual disabilities.

SODC Executive Director Steve Hocker says SODC’s partnership with the NFL Players  Association “gives professional athletes the chance to relate with the intellectually disabled that have the desire and the passion to be the best they can be.” There are roughly 17,000 citizens with intellectual disabilities in DC and the gala raises about $400,000 for SODC athletes from 54 public schools, group homes, and affiliated agencies and associations.

Photographs by Collin Erie and Steve Boyle.

“Our [SODC] athletes watch these elite professional athletes on the television and then are thrilled when they come into town, take the time to meet them, and work with them in the morning clinic,” Hocker says. “[The athletes are] right there with the kids during the day, and tonight is our time to honor them as recipients of a JB Award for their choice to reach out, get involved, and improve the community with service.”

Who: If you are a football fan, this event was a true touchdown. James Brown, host of “NFL Today” on CBS, presented the eponymous JB Awards, and Roger Goodell co-hosted the event with former Redskin John “The Diesel” Riggins. And that was just the beginning.

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was there with a smile that could break hearts, and three-time Pro Bowler and Saints quarterback Drew Brees was honored for his post-Katrina work in New Orleans. Other JB Award honorees included Ben Roethlisberger, Gary Brackett, Joe Flacco, Isaac Bruce, Greg Camarillo, Brian Dawkins, Chris Draft, Mike Flurry, Tony Pashos, David Thornton, and David Wilcox. And don’t worry: Clinton Portis and Rock Cartwright were there representing our beloved ‘Skins.

Brian Dawkins of the Denver Broncos received the Byron “Whizzer” White Award, the evening’s highest honor that goes to the player who most serves his team, community, and country.

Boldface names weren’t limited to football dudes, either. Dominique Dawes, Lindsay Czarniak, and Bob Sweeney were there. Eric Holder also had a ticket, but couldn't attend because of the commotion surrounding the State Department's release of torture memos.

Scene
: The International Ballroom was set with more than 80 tables for the dinner. The large room held a cheery, celebratory vibe. Tall, long-leafed plants with green up-lighting bordered the circumference, and red stars were projected onto the ceiling. Tables were anchored with large sconces emblazoned with inspirational sentences featuring words like “honesty,” “integrity,” and “hope,” but the focus of the room was a brightly lit stage with chairs for each of the NFL honorees. Several large projection screens broadcast the action on the stage.

Food and Drink: Platters of vegetables and fruit were the staple of the cocktail hour, as was a bar stocked with everything from Tanqueray and Maker’s Mark to a cold Coors Light or Pepsi. The silent auction featured mostly signed sports jerseys and helmets.  

Dinner started with a spring salad of baby lettuce with a green peppercorn dressing over candied pecans, Nicoise olives, and red and yellow drop tomatoes. The main course was an herb-crusted sliced tenderloin or beef with a green curried marinated shrimp, a cranberry and orange risotto, spaghetti squash, and asparagus. A dessert reception following the dinner and ceremony was held upstairs, where players and attendees mingled over blueberry crumble and miniature pastries.

Attire: Though the event was listed as business attire, many came in cocktail togs. How fashion forward were our darling Redskins? Rock Cartwright was wearing a fine suit by Ralph Lauren, and “Southeast Jerome” was head-to-toe in Hugo Boss, including a gray striped scarf.

Ratings:
Boldface names: 4 out of 5
Swankiness: 3 out of 5
Food and drink: 3 out of 5
Exclusivity: 4 out of 5
Total score: 14 out of 20

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