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Virgen's View: Lott delivers stirring message

Ronnie Lott delivered a heartfelt speech to close the luncheon that announced the watch list of the trophy bearing his name

In his playing days, Lott was known for hard, crushing hits. He was hitting people a different way Monday at The Pacific Club in Newport Beach. And his message hit home.

It's been an emotional time for Lott and he expressed that as he touched on the deaths of Junior Seau, Freddie Solomon and Rich Saul. They were close to him.

Saul, who lived in Newport Beach, was on the advisory board for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, the award for the college defensive player who stands out on the field and shows great character off it. Seau was also on the advisory board and was a star at USC, where Lott was also a legend in his day. Solomon played for the San Francisco 49ers and was a great friend of Lott's.

Throughout the luncheon, Jackie Slater spoke, as did Jim Everett and Steve Beuerlein, and no one talked about Seau, whose death was determined a suicide last week.

"When you lose somebody it's tough," he told me after the banquet. "My reaction is the same for each [after finding out the deaths of Seau, Solomon and Saul]. You think about why and how. The hard part is you never know. When you don't know, there are things you want to figure out. It's a mystery, and when it's a mystery people want to know the answer. And, yet you realize you have to celebrate all the good things Junior gave us. And one of the great things he gave us was that he was just a buddy for everybody."

Lott also used the buddy reference during his speech and also told people to be grateful for what they have.

"Junior was a special person," Lott said. "He would call you buddy. Sometimes you have a room like this full of great people. I would like to have everyone as my buddy."

Lott closed his speech with a statement that's become his signature.

"Let's play great," he said. "Let's play great, every day. Can you imagine all that we can accomplish?"

•Condoleezza Rice will be the keynote speaker for this year's Lott IMPACT Trophy Dinner on Dec. 9 at The Pacific Club in Newport Beach.

For the past eight years, the Lott Impact Trophy Dinner has been one of the great events in Newport Beach. Rice should add to the tradition.

•Chairman John Hamilton presented a $35,000 check to the Marine Scholarship Foundation from the IMPACT (Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity) Foundation.

In eight years, the IMPACT Foundation has raised nearly $1 million for various charities, both local and national, including $327,000 in scholarship monies for universities, according to a press release.

•Slater and Doug Smith, both former Rams offensive linemen, opened the luncheon with a tribute to Saul, also a Rams great who passed away from cancer. Smith, also an assistant coach at Orange Coast College, called Saul a man's man and a strong Christian.

Slater, a Hall of Famer, said Saul was his mentor. As a rookie for the Rams, Slater said he told a reporter that one of his goals was to become a Hall of Famer.

Slater said Saul challenged him to reach that goal.

"He challenged me like I have never been challenged before," Slater said of Saul.

Slater also said Saul helped train his son, Matthew, and give him pointers about performing on special teams. Matthew Slater plays for the New England Patriots.

•The people at Monday's luncheon sang, "Happy Birthday" to Lott. His 53rd birthday is May 8.

steve.virgen@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveVirgen

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