By any measure, the football team assembled at Birmingham’s Florentine building Thursday night would be a formidable one to beat.
Former Alabama and NFL stars Cornelius Bennett, Chris Goode, Richard Terrell Davis, Trent Richardson, Rich Wingo, Antonio Langham, Blake Sims, Bobby Humphrey and Marty Lyons were there. So were former Auburn and NFL greats Chris Woods, Terry Henley, Joe Cribbs and Jason Campbell. Add former Hoover High School, University of Florida and NFL standout Chad Jackson, and this is a team to be reckoned with.
The problem is the team is assembled to fight an opponent that has proven equally formidable — ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The ALS Association Alabama Chapter held its annual “Changing the Game” awards dinner recognizing those battling the disease or assisting those who are devoting funding and research to find a cure.
Annette Reburn, secretary of the ALS Association Alabama Chapter’s board of trustees, said the organization is devoted to research and finding a cure, as well as education, advocacy and assisting caregivers.
“ALS is one of those diseases that has very few, if any, drugs that really help,” she said. “We’ve had one new drug that has come out to help patients, so there is a huge area of research still to go to help.”
Reburn noted that Birmingham and Huntsville are homes to some of the leading research into ALS.
One of the highlights of the evening was the naming of the “ALS Team Starting Lineup” featuring the football players led by team captain Cribbs, Lyons as the coach and Humphrey as the event ambassador.
Humphrey said NFL athletes have become a target for the disease, so it is fitting that they are among the ones joining in the fight.
Humphrey also noted two former Crimson Tide and NFL players not there. Kevin Turner lost his battle with ALS two years ago and Kerry Goode’s struggles with the disease prevented him from attending the event.
“I was at Alabama during the same time K.T. was there … and I was also there with Kerry Goode, who has ALS now,” Humphrey said. “So, it kind of has a little bit more of a personal touch for me.”
The event honored Bryan Bonds, whose mantra of “Finish Strong, Finish Empty” and whose “Bonds of Love” Birmingham walk for ALS demonstrate the ways he is fighting the disease since being diagnosed in 2013.
Caregivers of those with ALS were also honored, as was Alabama Neurology Associates for its work with ALS patients as a recognized treatment center.
Lyons, who played at Alabama for coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and went on to have a great career with the New York Jets, delivered the keynote address. He created the Marty Lyons Foundation in 1982, which helps make dreams and wishes of terminally ill children come true.