By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Take advantage of the opportunities the sport of football offers. That was the advice guest speakers Marvin Washington and Johnathan Franklin gave to players and parents at last Sunday evening’s “Taste of Tangaroa”—a unique fundraiser for the Pali Quarterback Club held in the exclusive Riviera Estates and catered by Mark and Suzy White, owners of Tangaroa Fish Market (located in Culver City) and parents of Palisades High varsity strong safety Waka White.
Attendees were treated to an “al fresco” dining experience featuring with a menu of New Zealand’s freshest seafood and salad while enjoying stunning ocean views and sipping summer cocktails.
Following the format from last year’s “Taste of Porta Via” event in the Alphabet Streets (at which former UCLA and NFL quarterback Cade McNown and former USC and NFL tight end Bob Klein shared their experiences and perspectives), the fundraiser was again MC’ed by Tom Michel, whose son TJ played at Palisades and is now a freshman lineman at the University of Dubuque in Iowa.
“While participation in football is declining nationwide our program is thriving, with over 100 players,” said Pali Quarterback Club President and event chairperson Lisa Manheim, whose three boys all love football: Jonah was a quarterback at Pali High (graduating in 2017); Eli is a senior wide receiver on the Dolphins’ varsity squad; and Toby, a freshman tight end and linebacker on the JV team.
Having had so much fun last year, McNown returned for Sunday’s event along with fellow Huntington resident John Huarte, who won the 1964 Heisman Trophy as a senior at Notre
Dame and got inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005. They were joined by ex-USC receiver J.K. McKay, a member of the Trojans’ 1972 and 1974 national championship teams and co- MVP of the 1975 Rose Bowl.
“Tom Michel is a good friend of mine and he asked me to come,” said McKay, a 20-year Highlands resident whose daughter Kiley is a sophomore at USC and whose son Haden is starting seventh grade at Calvary Christian School. “We only lost two games the whole time I was at USC and I believe I was the only player my dad (then USC Coach John McKay) threw off the practice field twice!”
Washington had 40.5 sacks and 386 tackles in his 11 seasons at defensive end for three different teams and played on Denver’s Super Bowl XXXIII champion team. He retired after the 1999 season and has since become an advocate for the medical use of cannabis, as well as an entrepreneur in the cannabis industry. He also serves on the board of “Athletes for Care” which supports athletes on health and safety issues.
“I grew up in Texas and I like to tell people that there were only two sports in Texas—
football and spring football—and it’s still sort of that way today,” said Washington, who now resides in New York City. “They take it very seriously, they have $60 million stadiums and guys who were my friends in junior high and high school are still my friends today. Football gives you life bonds that never break. It gives you lifelong lessons and lifelong friends.”
Franklin, who grew up in Los Angeles and was an All-City running back/cornerback at Crenshaw and Dorsey, talked about his decision to go to UCLA, joining other inner city recruits he played with in high school. He then shared the powerful story of how his NFL career ended in the blink of an eye.
“I was drafted by the Packers in the fourth round, I was so excited,” said the 29-year-old
who now lives in Inglewood and serves as Manager of Community Engagement for the LA Rams. “In the fourth game of my rookie season I ran for 100 yards and I was on my way. Then, in Week 12 I was returning a kick against the Vikings and I was hit on the crown of my helmet and was completely paralyzed from the neck down. I retired with a spinal contusion. Just like that my career was over, but as it turned out the worst moment of my life has been my biggest blessing.”
Asked what they learned most from football, both speakers gave powerful testimony.
“Football is what you do but it’s not who you are,” Washington said. “Don’t let it be your identity. It’s a lot like life—you get knocked down and you get back up. I love the sport and I’m trying to make it safer for all levels, from Pop Warner to high school to college to the pros.”
Franklin articulated the importance of taking it day by day: “For me, it was all gone in one play so all I can say is enjoy the moment. We never know when life is going to change. As far as being a leader, try to meet your teammates where they’re at. Don’t expect them to see things as you see them.”
Varsity head coach Tim Hyde, JV head coach Ray Marsden and their wives also attended. The event raised $7,500 for Palisades’ football program and many guests left with silent auction gifts.
Rosy Marin won an Elyse Walker purse; Nancy Sitrick won a $100 gift card from Boca and a three-course dinner at Porta Via; Nell Ruiz won a Cynthia Rowley Fun Pack; Jewiz Fahn won a haircut from Heather Harmell; Melanie Kaplan won a Paliskates penny board; Jeff Hirschberg won a $100 gift card from Pearl Dragon; Pam Mann won dinner and a movie at Bay Theatre; Jenny Bergstrom won the UCLA football autographed by McNown; and Mark Verge won the football autographed by Huarte.