There was deep sentiment expressed and a laugh or two along the way as Baltimore put the finishing touches on another spectacular Ed Block Awards Banquet last night. If the National Football League doesn't use the success as a barometer for judging the city for an expansion team, then it isn't paying attention.
A capacity gathering of more than 1,700 packed the elaborate Martin's West dining facility. The Rev. Joseph MacNamara, S.J., in his invocation, mentioned what was on the minds of numerous guests. After Father MacNamara's reverent remarks, he reminded the audience: "Let's pray for the return of good health to John Unitas. We are not used to seeing John on his back."
It was a reference to Unitas' heart bypass operation at the University of Maryland Medical Center and the early seriousness of the Hall of Fame quarterback's condition, which now carries a more positive prognosis.
Master of ceremonies Joe Knight, one of the grand gentlemen of Baltimore radio, returned from his retirement home in Fort Myers, Fla., to open the formal part of the program. Looking down at 1/8 1/8 TC nearby table where San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana was surrounded by admirers, Knight quipped:
"My daughter Kim wants Joe's autograph, wife Bobbie wants Bart Starr's autograph and my grandmother wants Artie Donovan's autograph."
Then Knight, checking the sold-out crowd, said, "Tom Matte bent over, they put a tablecloth on his back and he's now serving as table 140."
Donovan, Matte and other Colts alumni were, as customary, prominent in the room.
Sam Lamantia, chairman of the board of the Ed Block Awards Banquet, which has raised $2,250,000 in 15 years for the assistance of abused children at St. Vincent's, was concerned over the prolonged oratory slowing the early part of the evening.
But Scott Garceau, the WMAR-TV sports director who handled the bulk of the introductions and interviews, was absolutely superb. He sensed the delay and realized Lamantia desires limited dialogue because he doesn't want to tire the public. The patrons aren't there to be bored.
Garceau quickly let the presentations gather momentum and questioned the award winners, plus guests of honor Franco Harris, Bubba Smith, Montana and Starr. It was Starr who reflected on the rivalry between his Green Bay Packers and the Colts. Then he brought up Unitas, his hero.
"John was already a star in the league when I started," he recalled. "I studied his actions in the films to understand what he was all about. He's just one special gentleman."
There's a profound respect that exists between Unitas and Starr, the two Hall of Famers. It was there when they were competing and has grown even stronger in their post-career years.
The star of the Block party turned out to be the Hon. William Davis, former Canadian prime minister, who was there to talk about his late friend, Joe Robbie, founder of the Miami Dolphins. He had a jocular touch, worked the crowd and made you wonder if he might not qualify as one of the most humorous speakers in two countries, Canada and the United States.
Davis, offering an ingratiating smile, made mention of the fact the table where one of Robbie's sons, Tim, was seated was besieged with fans making autograph requests of Montana, Harris, Starr and Smith. "But they are making a mistake beause Tim is the only one with a vote to get Baltimore in the league and they haven't even asked him," said Davis.
Young Robbie, president of the Dolphins, was obviously impressed with what he witnessed. In accepting an award in memory of his father, he made a promise: "I have only one vote of 28 clubs but if I have anything to say about it, Baltimore will get a team."
Joe Robbie would have enjoyed his son's making that kind of a stand-up-and-be-counted declaration.
For an emotional message, Mike Gann, defensive end of the Atlanta Falcons, was heard: "In week 11 last season, I was diagnosed with a malignant tumor. Radiation has been completed. My wife took care of me and our three children. She's the one with the courage in our family."
Then his wife was introduced. More applause for the Ganns, Mr. and Mrs., rolled through the huge hall. The Ed Block Courage Awards, for the 15th time, had delivered an eventful impact.