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Posted May 4, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Leaving an impression: Celebrities focus on teamwork at breakfast
By Jeremy Stafford -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Two former Washington Redskins, Mark Moseley and Joe Jacoby, marched down the aisle of the Moose Lodge in Winchester and took their seats at center stage to applause to begin the Apple Blossom Festival Sports Breakfast on Saturday.
But it wasn't until former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jack Ham, an eight-time pro bowler, four-time Super Bowl champion, and Hall of Fame inductee sauntered to the stage that the rectangular hall erupted with cheers from a thin sea of black and gold.
Yellow Terrible Towels twirled in the air and black Steelers hats spun around outstretched index fingers
And with local student athletes like Handley's Vance Washington and Clarke County's Cord Keating sitting just below the stage, the co-sports marshal directed his message, as had many of the speakers before him, to the student athletes and the rest of the youths present.
"Joe Paterno would always tell us, 'It's not about you individually, it's about you as a team,"' said Ham, who played football at Penn State and Massanutten Military Academy. '"Sometimes it's not the best team that ends up being undefeated or going to a bowl game, but the team that plays well together', and it's the same in professional football as well.
"It's great to play professional football, but I think it's the same thing with the Redskins as it is about Pittsburgh. I can see a similarity between teams that win championships and teams that play well together."
He preached that team chemistry and "earning the respect of your teammates" are the two most important qualities in sports, and that the one thing he misses from his playing days is the bond he shared with his teammates.
He mentioned Terry Bradshaw as a quarterback who cared, not for his stats, but for what was necessary to garner a Steelers win -- even when it involved nothing more than sticking the ball into the gut of running back Franco Harris.
"Our first two Super Bowls we won, we ran the football with Franco Harris and played good defense," Ham said. "It didn't matter to Terry Bradshaw, as long as we were winning football games."
Wide receiver Lynn Swann, so remembered for his diving catch in the 1972 AFC divisional playoff game against the Oakland Raiders, known fondly to fans as the 'Immaculate Reception,' was similarly content with run-blocking for Harris.
And Ham recalled former Steelers defensive tackle "Mean Joe" Greene, who won a countless number of awards in 1975, as saying "all those awards don't mean anything without winning a championship."
Moseley, who won an NFL MVP award in 1982 as a kicker for the Redskins, agreed.
Moseley spoke of the Redskins' first team meeting with coach Joe Gibbs in 1981, in Carlisle, Pa., when Gibbs, in a tone full confidence and bordering on arrogance, told a room of 130 players that only 30 would make the team.
At the time, the famed Hogs were "still piglets," and running back John Riggins had not yet earned his nickname, "The Diesel."
"You could have heard a pin drop in that room," Moseley said. "All of the sudden there was this new coach, who no one knew, was telling us that only about 25 or 30 were going to make his football team.
"And that got our attention real quick."
Gibbs explained that only about 25 percent of Americans are "willing to pay the price every day that it takes to be the best that they can be," which meant that only 30 players in the room full of all-Americans and all-pros had the wherewithal to be a Washington Redskin. Those who didn't make the sacrifices were cut.
The rest of the 49-man roster were undrafted free agents who knew they were going to have to scratch and claw and scrape their way through each grueling NFL season, and Gibbs appreciated that grittiness in his team.
Gibbs and the Redskins went on to play in four Super Bowls in the next 10 years, and won three of them.
University of Maryland guard Greivus Vasquez, perhaps more than anyone else in the room, understood Moseley's message.
Vasquez grew up playing basketball in Venezuela and had dreams, as so many athletic adolescents do, of playing professional basketball in the NBA.
"Seven years ago I never thought I would be right here thinking that I'm going to have the chance of my life," Vasquez said, "Originally to be in the NBA, but not only that, to have a degree and be somebody when I'm 36 or 40 years old."
To reach that dream, though, Vasquez would need to move to the United States, away from his mother and his family and a style of life that had become so familiar to him.
He moved to Rockville, Md., where he played high school ball with current Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant at Montrose Christian School, and was subsequently recruited by Terrapins coach Gary Williams.
And as likely as it was that he was going to be a college standout, and as likely as it was that he had the talent to play in the NBA, Vasquez said that he always made sure that his "schoolwork was done."
Since advancing to the third round of the NCAA tournament this past March, Vasquez, only a junior at Maryland, has declared for the NBA draft, though he hasn't yet signed an agent and has until June to decide whether or not he wants to leave College Park for good.
If he's drafted, Vasquez said, his major priority would be to complete his degree and serve as an example to kids that getting an education is every bit as important as chasing in on lofty dreams.
The rest of the speaking field had similar stories of sacrifice and adversity.
Jacoby, an original member of the Hogs, was originally thought to be a defensive lineman by Gibbs, and was nearly cut in 1981.
Co-sports marshal and Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton chased his dream of being a racecar driver, even when his high school English teacher told him to strive for a real job.
And outdoor sportsman Curtis Fleming told the audience a story about how he had to study three times as hard as his classmates just to keep up with them through high school and college.
"We've all heard of No Child Left Behind," Fleming said. "I just want one thing to be said today, I was that kid that was left behind in school.
"To no fault of my parents, no fault to my teachers, it's just something that happened from third to seventh grade, and I had a terrible time getting caught up."
Fleming never let his struggles in the classroom deter him from earning his master's degree and becoming a teacher.
Burton, in a brief sentence, united every dialogue and speech prior to his, and united the local sports heroes on stage with the local sports fans in the audience.
"If you look at all these guys right here, we all got life stories," Burton said. "But we had athletic stories, and all the bumps in the road to get to some successes.
"In life, we all have bumps and roads to get to successes."
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