Houston's College Football Honor
Lombardi Award counters the Heisman's New York hype with Saint Arnold bash
The Heisman Trophy is forever linked to New York City, as tied to Gotham as the subway. Hesiman candidates talk of getting to NYC for the trophy presentation.
But how many people realize that Houston is the longtime home to the Lombardi Award?
It seems like a strange match at first, second and third glance — a college football award named after the legendary coaching icon who was born in Brooklyn, schooled in the Bronx and transformed into a legend in Green Bay (one who wasn't really known for his college coaching) finding a home in Houston. But it turns out all it took to bring the Lombardi Award to the Bayou City was a little foresight.
When Vince Lombardi died from colon cancer in 1970, a Houston football fan named Rick Ashburn went to the Rotary Club of Houston and suggested it sponsor an award in Lombardi's honor. The Club moved quickly and well ... when you're first, you often get the trophy. Considering Houston's medical city background and its commitment to cancer fighting, the award fits more than you'd think.
It's been handed out 40 straight years and counting now, given to the college lineman of the year (Lombardi was one of the famed "Seven Blocks of Granite" offensive linemen at Fordham University in the 1930s). But despite its lengthy history, the quality of its award winners (eight Lombardi finalists have been the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft) and the fact it's one of the few honors in college football's now endless roll of awards that carries plenty of weight, it hasn't always received a ton of recognition in the town of its home.
So how do you compete with New York's famed Heisman Club?
You bring the Lombardi Award to Houston's favorite beer house — Saint Arnold brewery.
That's where the 12 semifinalists will be paired down to a final four of 2010 Lombardi Award contenders on Wednesday evening. From 5-7 p.m. at Saint Arnold, there will be something of a college football party/cancer-fighting award gig. Admission is free for the first 300 people to register (Saint Arnold cannot hold more than that).
Devoted college football fans will recognize the names of the players up for this year's Lombardi: Auburn defensive lineman Nick Fairley, Texas defensive end Sam Acho (the Longhorns probably figure they have to win something this year), Oklahoma defensive end Jeremy Beal, Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Browers, Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick, Ohio State defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, Florida State offensive guard Rodney Hudson, Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones, Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, TCU center Jake Kirkpatrick and LSU defensive tackle Drake Nevis. Four of those names will find out that they're headed to Houston for the Lombardi Award presentation on Dec. 8 at George R. Brown.
Considering that even the most now-focused football player tends to recognize the name of Vince Lombardi, this is a hefty trophy (it was carved out of 40 pounds of pink granite) that's sought after.
"Coach Lombardi stood for discipline and self sacrifice," Vicki Brentin, the chair of the Rotary Lombardi Award, says.
Speaking of sacrifice, in order for the Marie Lombardi (Vince's widow) to agree to give permission for the Houston club to use her husband's name, she stipulated that all proceeds from the award benefit the American Cancer Society. That tie is further recognized by the four finalists visiting kids in local hospitals every year.
A weighty college football award with a social mission? Take that New York.