At the Heisman Dinner Gala Monday in New York--(left to right) Mike Brennan, Monogram Club president Kevin O'Connor, Romeo Okwara, Tim Brown, Justice Alan Page, Byron Spruell and Justin and Lauran Tuck

Large Irish Presence at Heisman Gala

Dec. 13, 2016

By John Heisler

The bright lights of Times Square fixed themselves-most appropriately-on University of Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson Monday night at the 82 nd annual Heisman Dinner Gala at the New York Marriott Marquis.

The sophomore signal-caller absolutely qualified as the star of the show. The Heisman Trophy Trust also honored Ohio State’s Troy Smith, Michigan’s Desmond Howard and Florida’s Steve Spurrier on the 10th, 25th and 50th anniversaries of their respective Heisman victories.

Yet no football program produced more star power-spanning three generations–in the ballroom than the University of Notre Dame.

One of the loudest ovations of the evening went to former Irish star, NFL MVP and retired Minnesota Supreme Court justice Alan Page as he received the 11 th Heisman Humanitarian Award-in great part due to the millions of dollars he and his wife Diane have raised as part of their Page Education Foundation in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

Yet Page’s recognition marked simply the highlight of the Notre Dame presence.

Here’s who else attended Monday night:

–1987 Heisman winner Tim Brown, one of 15 former winners who stayed for the Monday night gala and sat on the dais.

–Former Irish and New York Giant star Justin Tuck (now pursuing an MBA at Penn’s Wharton School program) and his wife Lauran.

–Current New York Giant rookie Romeo Okwara, who just 24 hours earlier played the game of his young career with a team-leading eight tackles (plus a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss) as his Giants knocked off the front-running Dallas Cowboys.

–Former Irish offensive lineman and 1987 captain Byron Spruell, now president of league operations for the National Basketball Association (and a current Notre Dame Monogram Club board member).

–Former Irish offensive tackle Mike Brennan, a member of Notre Dame’s 1988 championship team, a regular in 1989 and a fourth-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals.

–The late John Lattner, the 1953 Heisman winner (and a regular at the annual Heisman festivities) who died in February. The Heisman staff left an empty seat on the dais in his honor (as it did for Colorado’s Rashaan Salaam, the 1994 winner).

Offered master of ceremonies Rece Davis, “John was always a staple here at these events. He was the life of the party. He was one of the great players in Notre Dame football history, and he was an even better person.”

Others attending with Notre Dame connections included Notre Dame Monogram Club executive director Brant Ust, current Monogram Club president Kevin O’Connor and the radio voice of Irish football games on IMG, Don Criqui (he sat on the dais as the Heisman’s Northeast Sectional representative).

The Notre Dame group gathered for a mid-dinner group photo. Starting a football roster with Page, Brown, Tuck, Okwara, Spruell and Brennan wouldn’t be a bad way to go.

Heisman Trustee Anne Donahue introduced Page, who in October received the Monogram Club’s Moose Krause Distinguished Service Award:

“Over the past 10 years the Heisman Humanitarian Award has added to the Heisman legacy with its own stories.

“Tonight we honor Justice Alan Page and, let me tell you, this was an easy decision for the Heisman Trust. His background is exactly what one would look for in a Heisman Humanitarian.

“First, a brilliant athletic resume, winning a national championship at the University of Notre Dame-then in 1971 becoming the first defensive player in the NFL to be named MVP.

“Second, a true professional leader-he was the first African-American to hold a seat on the Minnesota Supreme Court and he would still be there if not for the mandatory retirement age of 70.

“And, last but certainly not least, a charitable mission that is nothing short of incredible. Through his Page Education Foundation, Justice Page, along with his wife Diane, have helped thousands of young people of color in Minnesota pursue their post-secondary education and inspired them to give back to their community. In the nearly three decades since its inception, the foundation has harnessed the power of young people, creating not just community leaders but stronger community as well.”

Since 1988 the foundation has awarded more than $13 million in grants to more than 6,500 Page Scholars-who have volunteered more than 420,000 hours of their time in their communities.

Said Page in accepting the award (including a $50,000 check for the foundation) after a lengthy standing ovation, “Let me begin by saying, it’s a little scary up here with all these Heisman Trophy winners. You can imagine being a defensive lineman with the history of the University of Notre Dame and the Heisman Trophy and suddenly having your name considered with the word Heisman. It is quite the honor, indeed.

“To the Heisman Trust, let me say thank you.

“Thank you for recognizing the works that I have tried to do but also the work the other Heisman Humanitarian winners have done and the work you do, quite frankly, with children.

“In the words of Dr. Seuss’ Lorax, ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It will not.’ We can make this world a better place.

“The things I have done were never designed to seek recognition. It has been to pay back the privilege that I have been blessed with. Over the years I have been extremely fortunate. I would be remiss if I hadn’t done what I could to lift others so they could benefit from some of the things I’ve had the pleasure and opportunity to be a part of.

“I will say I’m never quite sure with being recognized that I am worthy of such recognition. But (Alfred, Lord) Tennyson said in Ulysses, ‘I am a part of all that I have met.’ I believe that we all are a part of each other and we all have the power to change the future. That’s what my wife Diane and I have been trying to do the last 30 years with the Page Education Foundation.

“Recognizing that I am not necessarily worthy of the recognition I received tonight, I do accept it on behalf of those 6,500 Page Scholars who are the lifeblood of the Page Education Foundation. They are the ones who do the real work, they are the real heroes and the ones who, through their service to children, make this world a better place.

“I accept it on behalf of my family that has supported me. I accept it on behalf of my bride of 43 and a half years who has encouraged me, supported me and allowed me to become more than what I might otherwise have been.”

In his remarks, Smith noted that he had struggled with his bow tie just prior to the gala, but, “Justice Alan Page got me right.”

Just one more person who Page has assisted along the way.

Senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been chronicling Irish athletics since joining the Notre Dame communications staff in 1978.