I Think I Won the Heisman!

The title is a lie.  I’m not often mistaken for Cam Newton, this year’s winner of the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the best college football player in the nation.  However, I sure felt like someone special since I had the amazing opportunity to attend the 2010 Heisman Memorial Trophy Dinner in New York this week.

First, some background is necessary.  No, I didn’t shell out $500 for a ticket or win one on a sports radio call-in show.  I just work for the coolest non-profit around.  Thanks to some sweet connections, for the last few years everyone who attends the event has received a $100 DonorsChoose.org gift card in their gift bag.  This year, along with my teammate Dan, I represented our organization.  It’s a rough job, I know!

The event was held at the Marriott Marquis and the Heisman staff did an impeccable job running it.  The evening started with a cocktail reception with some amazing food and an open bar.  There was a silent auction (a bit out of my price range) and the opportunity to get your picture taken with the trophy.

Kirk Heisman


During the reception I had the opportunity to meet some of the former Heisman winners that graced us with their appearance (not all attendees were at the reception).  I was able to meet football legends Tim Brown (‘87), Archie Griffin (‘74 and ‘75), Ty Detmer (‘90), Ron Dayne (‘99), Mike Rozier (‘83), Pete Dawkins (‘58), and Jim Plunkett (‘70).  I wish I had our DSLR camera to take better pictures, but its size would have been too cumbersome for this trip.

Tim Brown, despite being a Notre Dame alum, is still awesome.


I joked with Archie Griffin that I was a Purdue fan and enjoyed rooting against Ohio State during Big Ten play, and he laughed really hard at my honesty.  He was probably the most friendly and gracious former winner making the rounds.


I think Ty Detmer (BYU) would have blended into the crowd without his nametag.


I also chatted with Ron Dayne (Wisconsin) and told him how much he drove me crazy my freshman year when he ran for 222 yards against us, leading Wisconsin to a 7 point victory on his way to setting the collegiate record for most career rushing yards.  He laughed and said, “At least you got to cheer for Drew Brees!” to which I responded, “You bet, but I wish he had won the Heisman.”  Dayne’s retort: “Oh, he’s won a much better prize now!” referring to his Super Bowl MVP with the Saints last season (or maybe he meant the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year?)

After the cocktail reception, everyone headed into a large ballroom for the dinner.  Unfortunately, the former winners were seated up on stage and were roped off so that we couldn’t interact with them.  Once they were all introduced, I was surprised to see so many in attendance who hadn’t been at the reception earlier, including Doug Flutie, Steve Spurrier, Charlie Ward, Eric Crouch, Howard Cassady, Pat Sullivan, and Tony Dorsett.  Also in attendance (who we knew in advance would be there) were the Heisman winners celebrating a 10/25/50 year anniversary: Chris Weinke (‘00), Bo Jackson (‘85), and Joe Bellino (‘60).  Dan and I were most excited to meet Bo, but there was sadly never an opportunity, but we definitely can’t complain. 

ESPN’s Rece Davis emceed the dinner, and I had the opportunity to meet him later (read on).  Rece did a fantastic job and provided some good humor as well as giving DonorsChoose.org a tremendous shout out from the stage.  They showed a video honoring the charitable partners of the Heisman Trust, and Rece made sure to inform everyone about their gift card so they would be sure to redeem it after the event.


These  three pictures are courtesy of the event photographer

Flutie and Bo.  Bo’s speech was really humorous, and this was the first time he had been back to the event since he won the award 25 years ago.


Also in attendance was Warrick Dunn, who was being honored as the 2010 Heisman Humanitarian for all of his charitable work.  After the dinner I tried to get him to come down from the stage to say “hi” but all I got was a wave.  He gave a lot of credit to Tony Dungy, who coached him in Tampa, for inspiring him to give back to the community.


After everyone had spoken, including the Auburn athletic director and head coach (it was an Auburn love-fest with all of them there, as well as Newton and Bo), the head of the Heisman Trust, Bill Dockery, began to introduce the final speaker of the night, Cam Newton.  Before doing so he gave another great spiel about DonorsChoose.org and again reminded everyone to redeem their gift card.  I was blushing at all the love we were getting.  Cam spoke (we never had a chance to meet him either, since the only photo session with him was for VIP sponsors only (Nissan, Wendy’s, etc.)  earlier in the evening), and then the dinner was over.  We approached the stage to thank Bill for his kind words, and afterwards we tried to get the attention of the stars on the stage, but to little avail.  We did, however, see Bo point upwards as though he was going to some sort of after party.  We didn’t know what was really going on, and our tickets didn’t have additional information, but we thought it was worth a shot to wander around the hotel and see if there was a way to meet more of these guys.

Dan and I kept taking the escalator up until we came to the ninth floor where some over-caffeinated event staff were asking for tickets.  Apparently there was an after party, but it was only for guests of honor and VIP sponsors, and you had to have a separate ticket.  Dejected, we walked to the other side of the escalators to go back down, but then I saw an opening and told Dan to walk slowly and follow me.  While the bouncers were busy checking tickets, I realized we could walk around the hotel’s interior concourse and go the long way to reach the after party.  Employing my “bring out the smart phone, act like your conducting business, don’t look up and just keep walking like you know what you’re doing” method from my experience sneaking backstage at the Final Four, we made it into the party.

There was tons more food (but we were stuffed by this point), a great jazz band, open bar, about 30 people mingling, but no sign of Bo, Cam, or Warrick.  Eventually the room began to get more crowded and we realized we were sitting a few seats down from Tony Dorsett (‘76)!  We chatted a bit and I had him sign the Heisman mini-helmet from our gift bag.  We also were able to say hello to Rece Davis later on and thank him for the kind words he said earlier (while slipping him my card, of course!).  By the end of the night I found myself lingering in hopes that Bo would arrive, and I got pulled into a discussion with some tipsy gentlemen, including Mr. Dorsett,  Let’s just say my evening at the Marquis ended with a slap on the butt and a “good game” from a former Heisman Trophy winner. 


The rest of my trip to NYC was fantastic, since I love spending time with my colleagues at our headquarters.  I spent my free time checking out the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center (I’d never seen it in person), walking the windy snow-swept streets, shopping at the Union Square Holiday Market, and having a fantastic dinner at Ippudo (thanks to the recommendation of my wonderful new manager).

Ippudo has received some good reviews as one of the best Japanese ramen restaurants in the city.  And when you think “ramen,” don’t think 25 cent bags of stale thin noodles you ate in your college dorm room, but think flavorful fresh noodles with amazing broth and toppings.  The worst thing about the restaurant is the wait.  They don’t take reservations, and when I arrived, the small bar and waiting area were packed with people.  The couple before me were told their wait would be 90 minutes, and for a party of four, the wait was over two hours.  As a solo diner, however, I only had to wait ten minutes, so I highly recommend it as a place to check out when travelling alone.

I sat at the interior bar and was able to watch the cooks prepare the food as they hollered back and forth in the loud but playful environment.  I started with a Hirata bun, steamed and filled with pork belly and spicy sauce.  I’m not normally a huge fan of steamed buns, but this was delicious, and even more fun watching them cook it and assemble it right in front of me.  For my ramen dish, I had Kogashi miso ramen, which had a delicious charred miso broth, pork belly, salt boiled egg, bamboo shoots, cabbage, spinach, and naruto.  I loved it, and I took advantage of the Kae-dama option, which gives you a generous second-serving of noodles halfway through the meal for only two dollars.






No comments: