Fans love players.
The NFLPA gave them a chance to spend time with some of the greatest in the game.
The second annual Legends Brunch was held at the Indianapolis Museum of Art on Sunday, and fans got the chance to hear from some of the legends of the game. Hall of Famers like Fort Wayne native and Purdue grad Rod Woodson, Warren Moon, Floyd Little, Fred Biletnikoff joined NFL great Cornelius Bennett in a panel discussion moderated by Fox Sports' Pam Oliver.
The invitation-only event was beautifully hosted by the IMA, but the wonderful food and surroundings took a back seat to some of the greatest players to ever play. The NFLPA put on the event in part to show their concern for retired players and to help deepen the bond between those who built the game and those who play it today. After brief opening remarks by executive director DeMaruice Smith (I'll post an interview with him tomorrow), current players Benjamin Watson of the Browns and the Bears' Robbie Gould took questions from fans for the legends.
There was also recognition paid to Hoosier hero George Taliaferro. The first African-American drafted to play in the NFL, Taliaferro is now a retired juvenile court judge and has been married for 62 years. The 85-year old excluded grace and good humor as he told the crowd of his experiences growing up in segregated Gary, IN. Before desegregating Indiana University and going on to an NCAA Hall of Fame college career, Taliaferro glowingly talked about playing against white players for the first time. His school was not allowed to play white schools until his senior year. When they finally did, they beat the three time state champs. "We killed 'em!" he said with a laugh. "I killed every white boy old enough to die!". The crowd roared good-naturedly at the great man's tongue-in-cheek jest.
The panel discussion was filled with highlights as the legends commented on a wide variety of topics, often with humor.
Floyd Little wore his Hall of Fame Blazer to bed the first night he got it. His wife asked why and he responded, "I want to be a Hall of Famer in bed too!"
Fred Biletnikoff talked about dropping four passes in practice. He passed his coach Al Davis who grumbled, "I don't even know why I drafted you!". He also said that of all the levels of football he coached (high school, junior college, college, Canadian, and NFL), junior college was the most fun because the kids actually did what he said because they were all desperate to get to the next level.
The players talked about the importance of preparing for life after football. Warren Moon said he advises players that they have 30-40 years to prepare for and have to use their time to network and create opportunities. Rod Woodson heeded the advice of Ted Marchibroda who said of retirement, "You don't know what you don't know". He said Chuck Knoll admonished players to "get on with your life's work". It struck him odd as a rookie, but after Knoll was gone and Bill Cowher didn't talk about the same kinds of things, he began to understand how rare and precious the advice was.
Andrew Luck was a popular topic. Ex-Colt Cornelius Bennett (interview coming on Friday) said, "He's what they're (the Colts) looking for, but until he gets hit by someone my size, you just don't know". Warren Moon noted that Luck has all the skills and is complete. He was high on Robert Griffin as well, but says he still has footwork issues in the drop back to iron out.
Moon had strong words of support for Cam Newton as well. He noted Newton's off the field issues, but said it irked him to see the same questions about his intelligence that kept Moon from being drafted 30 years ago raised about Newton. He said the only real question was whether Newton could adapt after playing a spread offense, but that obviously those concerns were baseless.
The players talked about their health. All are in good health, though Woodson has the normal aches and pains you can expect, "I can do everything with my kids," he said, "except chase them. But I know where they live!".
They almost all expressed support for the Giants in the Super Bowl, except Biletnikoff who pulled for the AFC on principle. Floyd Little shared a college backfield with Tom Coughlin and hoped the coach would one day make the Hall of Fame. They would be the only college backfield to ever make the Hall together.
The event exuded class and respect for the game. As the panel ended, fans took time to shake the hands of the current and former stars, connecting with the players they loved and who helped build the NFL into the giant it is today.