So the circus came to town tonight. And I met Michael Vick. At least, briefly, I did.
This story is gonna ramble a little – don’t they all? – but I almost skipped the Ed Block Courage Awards dinner earlier tonight. I wasn’t in the mood to go, I’ve had some long days of work lately and I just didn’t feel much like being in the room with a thousand people and dealing with angry mobs of PETA people and, quite frankly, I just wasn’t in the mood for the hassle.
Earlier in the day one of my oldest friends from Dundalk, Frank Vanik, sent me a series of emails saying that he needed tickets to the Ed Block event. Honestly, I didn’t have any tickets for the event and I sent him back a series of emails all day from a variety of meetings. Frank said it was his birthday and he wanted to be at the banquet. And I felt like a tremendous heel because I really didn’t have the tickets, time or ability to help him at the last minute on a heavy workload day. And I knew my friend Sam Lamantia and his staff would be in complete overwhelm and all fearing the worst P.R. from the Michael Vick dog-gate that was unfolding in the driveway of Martin’s West.
But here’s the catch: Frank is in a very, very advanced stage of battling Multiple Sclerosis – a 20-plus year battle that has left his mind 1000% fine to read my blogs every day and listen to WNST AM-1570 – but his body has quit on him and he usually lays very limp in a 600-pound wheelchair that his mom Gert is usually pushing to some event. For many of you who have been to our events, Frank is no stranger. He’s come to WNST events for years – almost always “surprises” me when his family shows up in a giant truck that it takes to transport him everywhere he goes. I’ve taken him out to the Ravens facility to meet Ray Lewis, Brian Billick, Steve McNair, Jon Ogden and many others. One time he came to an event and we couldn’t get him to the second floor because the chair just wouldn’t make it. Frank is one of the biggest sports fans I know and his disabilities are quickly becoming nullified with the connectivity of the internet.
He’s on Facebook. He communicates. You can almost hear him laugh electronically. He wants to write a blog at WNST.net.
Frank also has pictures all over his house of his life accomplishments. Frank has scuba dived. Frank went skydiving two years ago strapped onto another person. Frank has been the Dundalk Man of the Year. I visited Frank almost 10 years ago in a hospital and thought he was going to die.
Frank Vanik, who I met as a 7th grade classmate in 1979 at Holabird Middle School, is unquestionably the most “courageous” person I’ve ever known in my 42 years on the planet. Honestly, I can’t even begin to think of who would be a close second for me.
His family. His caregivers. His friends. Everyone rallies around Frank and if you could catch a drift of his sense of humor, you’d know why.
Frank graduated from my Dundalk High Class of 1985 with a perfect score on the math side of the S.A.T. No, I’m not making that up – he had an EIGHT HUNDRED on the hardest test of them all!
And while I was running off to The News American and The Sun with a pregnant girlfriend and then a small child, he went off to Blacksburg and Virginia Tech and got a degree in Mechanical Engineering. That year he was stricken with M.S. and since then my many DHS classmates and I have watched his body deteriorate and decay with this insidious disease that more and more people in my life have been affected by recently. My sister-in-law was diagnosed last year and it scares he hell out of me and my wife and her family.
So, Frank, with Michael Vick in town really wanted to be at the Ed Block Awards to support Michael Vick. (And no, I still haven’t asked Frank how he feels about Vick’s dogs, jail time, the Courage Awards, etc.)
Last night, I dragged myself out to the event at the last minute. I missed Vick’s press conference (one that I didn’t even know was happening) and I headed to the ballroom and ran into a variety of friends, old football players and even did some cool videos for wnsTV with E.J. Henderson, Shawne Merriman and Dawan Landry.
At the edge of the ballroom – an hour into my night — I caught Frank and his giant wheelchair and the sea of orange out of the corner of my eye. He was wearing a Virginia Tech suit and a had a Hokies blanket draped on him to keep him warm. (His condition constantly makes him cold.)
During the opening of the event – all designed to shed light and raise funds for the plight of abused and underprivileged kids throughout NFL cities – I heard the word “courage” while I was chatting with Frank and thought about HIS courage. And I remembered it was his birthday.
And, well, I know some folks with the Ed Block Foundation after raising money for so many years on their behalf and being a Community Leader award winner several years ago.
So, I grabbed a few of the security personnel and Paul Lamantia, Sam’s son (who is completely responsible for my hair – for better or worse – and was also the guitar player in our band, Ridgemont High, a number of years ago) and told them the story about Frank.
Ten minutes later, Frank was being wheeled into a private area and Michael Vick was jumping off the dais to come and say hello. I’m assuming Sam Lamantia got the word about Frank and wanted to do a good deed in the name of courage.
Here’s how it went down…
Vick signed a picture for Frank, chatted for a little while when I turned the camera off and last I checked was taking pictures with people outside of the bathroom at Martin’s West.
I pass no judgment. But I have a feeling you will…
I just thought I’d pass along that Michael Vick made a special friend of mine very, very happy tonight. And he couldn’t have been any more gracious or sincere or kind. And there was nothing “orchestrated” about any of this. It literally happened on the fly. Every Ed Block worker said Vick was “a gem – a prince” to work with over the past two days.
It doesn’t diminish any of the past crimes and misdemeanors, but I feel better about Michael Vick today than I did yesterday. And really, isn’t that all he can do at this point? Every day Vick has to get out of bed with a gigantic bulls eye on his back and people watching his every move. And last night, he made a very nice gesture and I’m not even sure anyone with the Ed Block folks even told him where he was going when he got off of the dais.
I also entered Martin’s West last night and Tweeted up a variety of pictures of the Vick/P.E.T.A protesters, who were out in force but weren’t a factor inside the facility, which was surrounded by Baltimore County police. (I can only imagine how much it cost the citizens of Baltimore County to surround Martin’s West with cops for a guy from out of town who was trying to take the right path and was being honored by his teammates, who thought he deserved an award for “courage.”)
To be honest, Vick IS a courageous guy since last night was turned into a circus on his behalf and he’ll be dealing with this for a long, long time, apparently. He’s got a lot of courage for showing up and trying to the change the way he lived his life.
The “Golden Boy” Tom Brady didn’t even care to show up to claim his award. Marlin Jackson was here in Owings Mills trying to get a job yesterday afternoon and couldn’t stay a few hours and go five miles away to claim his award.
But not Vick. He came. Took the heat. Shined amidst the madness. And left most of the Ed Block people with a great impression. It would have been FAR easier for him — and for the Ed Block folks — if he indeed stayed home.
But he came and represented his team, his name and the league on a night designed to raise money for abused and neglected children.
Isn’t that the definition of courage, in some way?
Who knows? Maybe some of those PETA folks will realize Michael Vick might be able to do them more good than harm, moving forward.
Tony Dungy gave him a chance. The Eagles gave him a chance. Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb gave him a chance. Roger Goodell gave him a chance.
So far so good for Vick but the poor Ed Block people had their event tarnished to some degree tonight and the crowd was way off at Martin’s West.
I just thought I’d tell you (and show you) a nice story involving Michael Vick.
And I’m sure you’ll go on thinking whatever you care to think…
And you’re welcomed to write those missives below…