The sport of football is known as a tough man’s game, but a handful of players have practiced their strong Catholic values on and off the field.
Two of those players, former New York Jets Vinny Testaverde and Marty Lyons, were honored at the annual Heisman Trophy Dinner Gala Dec. 12 at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, Manhattan.
As part of the four-day Heisman weekend, the dinner welcomes back former Heisman winners to induct the newest trophy recipient into the fraternity. Baylor University quarterback Robert Griffin III became the 77th winner of the Heisman Dec. 10.
Testaverde celebrated his 25th anniversary since he won the Heisman Trophy in 1986 as the quarterback of the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Fla., Hurricanes. Born in south Brooklyn in 1963, he grew up and still resides in Elmont, L.I., and his family attends Sacred Heart parish, North Merrick.
With the Hurricanes in ’86, Testaverde completed 154 passes with a completion rate of 63.6%. He threw for 2,249 yds. and 24 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. He was the first Miami quarterback to win the Heisman and led the Hurricanes to an undefeated season that year. He is still Miami’s all-time leader with 46 passing touchdowns.
Testaverde was drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1987. He went on to play for the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, the Jets, Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers. He holds the NFL record for throwing a touchdown pass in 21 consecutive seasons. He also completed touchdown passes to an NFL record 70 different players in his career.
In his speech, Testaverde said that it was a pleasure and a privilege to be honored. He congratulated Griffin III, and he introduced his family to the crowd. His family was also with him when he won the trophy in ’86.
“The big thing with him in winning it (the Heisman) was that he brought his whole family, and they were huge,” said former Heisman coordinator and Bay Ridge’s own Rudy Riska. “It was a huge crowd, so I think that made him a lot more comfortable.”
Testaverde continued by speaking of the joy and excitement that the most prestigious award in college sports has brought into his life. He was sure to mention his late father, Al Testaverde.
“He had the biggest influence in not only my football career but also my life,” said Testaverde.
Riska said that Al Testaverde worked construction on the office building next to the Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan, the former home of the Heisman Trophy. Al would sit with his co-workers on the steps of the club and tell them, “You see that trophy in there. My son’s going to win that one day.” Sure enough, Vinny came through.
Lyons Is Humanitarian Winner
In addition to Testaverde, former Jets lineman and practicing Catholic Marty Lyons was honored with the sixth annual Heisman Humanitarian Award. He’ll always be remembered as part of the Jets’ defensive front of the early 1980s known as the “New York Sack Exchange,” with Mark Gastineau, Abdul Salaam and Joe Klecko.
He is currently the chairman of the Marty Lyons Foundation, which was established 29 years ago – while Lyons was still in the NFL. The foundation attempts to fulfill the wishes of children who have been diagnosed with terminal or life-threatening illnesses.
In 1982, a series of events inspired Lyons to start his foundation including the birth of his eldest son, the passing of his father and meeting a high school boy named Steven, who had been diagnosed with cancer. His goal was to help children like Steven that he felt were being cheated out of life.
“I said, ‘Steven, if you keep fighting, everything is going to be all right,’” Lyons said in his speech at the dinner. “Steven responded, ‘I know it is, I’m going to go to Heaven.’”
Though Steven died two weeks later, Lyons said that the boy’s message continues to live on through the foundation. It was at this point that Lyons realized there is much more to life than football. Since its inception, the foundation has granted wishes to more than 6,000 children.
In addition to his plaque commemorating the award, Lyons received a $50,000 donation from the Heisman Trophy Trust that will benefit the foundation. Lyons expressed his utter gratitude in his speech.
“Marty has made a difference in many young people’s lives,” said William J. Dockery, the Heisman Trophy Trust president. “He has given thousands of children and their families a temporary respite from their illnesses and the ability to create positive memories with their families. What could be better? We hope that others will emulate Marty’s selfless work.”
Since his retirement, Lyons has appeared at various speaking engagements where he discusses how he’s lived out his Catholic faith through his foundation.
“If you truly have faith in God,” Lyons said. “God is going to take care of you no matter what.
Cathedral Prep to Host Jim Dilg Basketball Tournament
Cathedral Prep, Elmhurst, will host the first-ever Jim Dilg Classic Christmas Basketball Tournament, Dec. 29 and 30.
Dilg served at Cathedral Prep for almost 47 years as a teacher, coach and the school’s athletic director. He retired on Feb. 1, 2011, but he is still the CHSAA’s treasurer.
The tournament will consist of four junior varsity and four varsity games over two days. The participating teams include Cathedral Prep JV and varsity, Friends Seminary JV, Manhattan; Msgr. McClancy M.H.S. JV, East Elmhurst; Bay Ridge Prep JV, Bay Ridge; Townsend Harris H.S. varsity, Flushing; Holy Cross H.S. varsity ‘B’, Flushing; and Robert F. Kennedy H.S. varsity, Flushing.