Already being honored for their community efforts, 12 NFL players participated in a special basketball game at Washington, DC's Gonzaga High School the morning of the 2003 NFL Fever/NFL Players Awards Gala on Thursday, April 10, 2003.
The players, consisting of 11 "Unsung Hero Award" winners and Eagles cornerback Troy Vincent, the Byron "Whizzer" White Award winner, were honored at a banquet later that night at the Washington Hilton."
The players were split up among two teams of gold-medal winning Special Olympics DC athletes for a four-quarter game.
"It was absolutely exceptional," said Cardinals wide receiver Frank Sanders. "You realize how much you take for granted. We take for granted our skills but when you come out here and you see these kids and how excited they are for the game, it makes you appreciate things a lot more."
Sanders, a former college baseball player at Auburn, is a great athlete but he missed two lay-ups that drew some roars from his fellow NFL players. "I was rushing too much and trying to hard," Sanders laughed. "I'm a little rusty."
Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, a member of the Red team, drew some attention and good-natured boos for his hard-nosed play after getting juked by one of the youngsters. "I was having a good time," he said. "A couple of people said I was too rough or got too competitive but that one kid, James, he was like (Allen) Iverson, he did a cross-over move and kind of 'broke my ankles,' not literally, but I got beat and it got me really competitive so I had to start playing defense."
Biamila's tenacious defense caused Chargers linebacker and Blue team member Donnie Edwards to proclaim, "Stay away from KGB" as the theme for the game, which was won by the Blue team by the final score of 41-35.
While the kids got the chance to meet some of the NFL's best, the players had their share of fun as well. "We had a lot of fun out there playing with the kids and all the guys from the league were having fun with it," said Rams defensive lineman Grant Wistrom. "Back in St. Louis I do work with the Special Olympics helping them with fundraisers, but I don't get to participate with the kids. So this really brings it home getting to come out here."
Raiders tight end Roland Williams was relegated to coaching duties due to recent toe surgery but still took great pride in being a part of the event. "It's wonderful to get to see these young people and the talents that they have," he said. "It's truly amazing and I had a great time. I felt good because I was the head coach and we won the game impressively. As a head coach, I'm batting a thousand."
The players were briefed by Stephen Hocker, Executive Director of Special Olympics DC, prior to the game. He thanked them for participating in the annual event and expressed how much of an impact the game has on the kids.
"The NFL and PLAYERS INC get it when it comes to Special Olympics," he told them. "They really, truly get it. They could just hold the event and give out the awards, but they go one step further and get involved with the Special Olympics."