Part family reunion, part glory days revival, one of the largest gatherings ever of Hall of Fame athletes took place at the Lansdowne Resort outside Leesburg over the weekend for the 15th Annual Bobby Mitchell Hall of Fame Golf Classic. The event raised nearly $700,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and it was a brilliant way to part cigar-chomping, Dewar’s-drinking weekend duffers from their dough.
Legendary Redskins quarterback Sonny Jurgenson was passing out stogies to pals at Saturday night’s banquet as former Chicago Bear Gale Sayers chatted with Mr. Mitchell, the ever-jovial former Redskin and host (who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983). John Riggins, with his stunning blonde wife Lisa Marie, was tardy and got testy when asked how he felt about Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s recent retirement. (Remember “Loosen up Sandy, baby”?)
More than 40 celebrated football and basketball greats showed up to sign autographs (except the Boston Celtics’ Bill Russell, who famously refuses to give away his signature), play golf, schmooze, bid on golf outings, football tickets, teeth whitening and the usual Botox donation (which no one ever seems to bid on) and take $50 chances on a brand new Toyota Solara SE convertible with a $28,000 sticker price. (The event is sponsored by the Washington Area Auto Dealers.) Near the end of the filet mignon dinner, with most players and guests well lubricated, emcee and former WJLA anchor Paul Berry called out the winner of the raffle: former Los Angeles Rams star and Hall of Famer Tom Mack.
What did the big guy do? Give the car back — and happily so — so somebody else could win.
An autographed football bearing the signatures of almost every legendary athlete present brought such a heated bidding war that the Hall of Famers agreed to sign another one. They went for $15,000 each.
If that weren’t enough, the Darvish family (of Darcars auto fame) bid $17,000 for a 10-day trip to France and then presented it to the family of Paul Fertitta, a 9-year-old Herndon boy who is currently being treated for leukemia and who was there with his family to call attention to the disease. Tamara Darvish (who should be renamed Dervish for her whirling energy) co-chaired the event and pointed out that the survival rate for the disease in 1960 was only 4 percent. Today, it is 86 percent.
A thrilling moment capped the evening when the Darvishes, who donated a Caribbean cruise for six aboard their 130-foot yacht, realized they could double their donation after the bidding was about to top $50,000. John Darvish told Mr. Berry he would donate a second week for another group.
Sold for $50,000 — each — to the two top bidders.
Former Dallas Cowboy Mel Renfro, attending for the ninth time, preferred to sign autographs rather than hit the links. “With my creaky bones, I don’t play a lot,” he said with a laugh.
Mr. Mitchell said he’s learned how to put the fun in his fundraiser over the years.
When someone suggested a golf tournament for Hall of Fame members, he wasn’t convinced at first. He knew what his colleagues disliked about big fundraising events where the organizers just want their celebrity and nickle and dime them for “incidentals.”
Mr. Mitchell decided to offer a mini-vacation in the bargain. “I made the first day and a half belong to the players,” he said, so “the athletes could sip beer in the pool and play with their kids. The wives basked in the sun, or played tennis.
“I got 18 guys the first year so I was doing something right.”
Former Milwaukee Bucks superstar guard Oscar Robertson said he relished the opportunity to see so many old friends and has only missed one tournament in the past 15 years. “To see so many guys, to see Marques Haynes [whom] I met when I was 13 years old when he was with the [Harlem] Globetrotters. It’s just a wonderful experience.”
Earlier in the evening, the Hall of Famers posed for a group photo and chuckled over their golf scores. “It’s a family reunion, really,” said former Boston Celtic Sam Jones, who brought his wife and eight grandchildren along for the weekend. “We come back each and every year, trying to find a cure for leukemia and lymphoma. If we can do that, we can help young people as well as those who are suffering.”