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It's time for a break, and a bit of recognition

Updated: 2013-03-17 07:45
By Ron Jaworski ( China Daily)

Greetings from the US, where we took a momentary pause from football.

This week, however, the free-agent market opened in the NFL, and the Arena Football League, opened its training camps for the start of the new indoor season.

My personal notebook is bulging with items and memories from the recent Maxwell Football Awards. I have been president of the MFC for 15 years. It was founded in my hometown of Philadelphia in 1937 and is the oldest football club in the world. We honor outstanding players and coaches on every level in the US. In all, 13 awards were handed out on March 1 at our gala in Atlantic City to people from the NFL, the NCAA and high school.

Our honorees included Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, Penn State's Bill O'Brien (as well as the school's entire senior class), and from the NFL, Adrian Peterson and Chuck Pagano.

The black-tie gala, attended by more than 1,100 fans and carried live by ESPN3, had a common theme of overcoming adversity through perseverance and teamwork.

I give a lot of credit to Te'o, who has been chased across the country be the media for his off-the-field issues. Not only did Te'o keep his commitment to attend as the Maxwell college player of the year, but he stood up to the media scrutiny, which included a nationally televised press conference.

Personally, I think this will be a character-builder for the linebacker. Some have doubts about his ability to play in the NFL. Not me. He is a play-maker, plain and simple. NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock, who introduced Te'o at the awards dinner, projects him as a late first-round draft pick.

In Peterson's case, it was the Minnesota Vikings running back's return from a severe knee injury only eight months before the season to nearly shatter the all-time record for rushing yards that got him named Maxwell's NFL player of the year. In any other year, Peterson's story would have stolen the show, but not this time.

That's thanks to NFL coach of the year Chuck Pagano's heart-wrenching story. There he sat throughout the evening, filled with emotion. He told a rapt audience he was "battling tears the whole evening, just grateful to be in attendance".

It has been just five months since he was stunned to learn the fever he had been running was actually a rare form of leukemia. For 25 days, his life hung in the balance. Not only did he survive, (he is cancer-free) but he returned to the sidelines to coach the surprising Colts in a playoff game.

As he looked towards his wife, his lips trembling, there was silence in the room, until it broke into wild cheers and a standing ovation.

The same was true when 22 Penn State seniors in attendance stood to accept our special "Spirit Award" for their perseverance in the midst of the scandal that had engulfed their team over the conviction of former defensive coach Jerry Sandusky. Most expected division among the players and a terrible season. Instead, these young men, mostly on their own, closed ranks and had a great season.

These are the stories that make football the one-of-a kind team sport that distinguishes it from any other. The gala was something of a football "fraternity" showcase.

That is one big reason I am personally excited to be helping bring this sport to China in the months ahead. Our group (known as Ganlan Media in Beijing and AFL-Global in the United States), is busy preparing for the first step. In May, we will lead two weeks of instruction on the game, helping to certify Chinese coaches and officials at Beijing Sports University.

I will be telling you more about that, the new indoor season in the US, and the free agent offseason maneuvering in the NFL in the weeks ahead.

To help China Daily readers get a grip on what is happening with American football, popular analyst Ron Jaworski, who played 17 years in the NFL and earned All-Pro honors and a Super Bowl berth with the Philadelphia Eagles, will provide insight into the sport. Jaworski, who works for ESPN and has his own radio shows, is be a regular China Daily columnist. He can be reached at sports@chinadaily.com.cn.

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