It was a beautiful Saturday, the 2nd day of June, for more than just the sparkling weather all across the greater-Washington DC area.
It was beautiful, because somebody, actually a lot of people, had the mission and the heart to support and cheer Down Syndrome children and young adults while playing a game, that so many take for granted.
Football is a complex sport, but at it's heart - it is a game. Down Syndrome children (and adults) can be complex at times, as all human beings can be, but their heart seems to be enormous. The only thing bigger, might be the persistent smile that is a customary physical trait.
I know this, because my son Tyler, who will be eleven on June 21st, was born in Las Vegas with Down Syndrome. I see that smile every day. I see it, I feel it and I know it. It's always with me. It's part of my fuel.
Trust me, many times, I ask why?? I beg for the strength to be patient in general, limit the sleepless nights and give my son a fair chance like every other kid has. Like my 8-year old daughter Natalie has. Like I had, and probably like you had.
Many days like Saturday, and at least five times per day, I laugh and think, god gave my wife and I -- the greatest gift of all. Loving a child with Down Syndrome is truly contagious.
The Global Down Syndrome Foundation (http://www.globaldownsyndrome.org/) based out of Denver, Colorado has spread its angel-like wings to Washington DC for a series of events including a "Be Beautiful, Be Yourself" fashion show last November, that NFL linebacker and former Redskin, Rocky McIntosh attended.
It was just one step of many, in a clear initiative to raise awareness in the nation's capital for Down Syndrome. Another major event will be held in July.
This past weekend, an event that has been held only in Denver, was on proud display at the US Naval Academy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland.
Super Bowl Champion wide receiver, Ed McCaffrey and the GDSF (www.twitter.com/GDSFoundation) brought the "Dare to Play" & "Dare to Cheer" football and cheerleading camp to the DMV area for the first time.
The camp started on Friday, a fitting tribute to "National Dare Day" as the players and cheerleaders were taught the basic fundamentals of football and a cheer routine, thanks to the hard work of some US Naval Academy football players and a combination of Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins cheerleaders.
McCaffrey, lent his expertise on Friday and on Saturday. The former Denver Broncos star, who played collegiately at Stanford, went one step further and recruited two head coaches that he has personal ties with & who currently live in the area.
Two Super Bowl winning head coaches, as in current Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan and former Baltimore Ravens head coach, Brian Billick. Three Super Bowl rings as head coaches between the two, and yet, they took time out of their day to lend their experience and enthusiasm to the Honey Badgers (Billick) and the Dragons (Shanahan).
As Shanahan told me before the event at Redskins Park, he can just show up, but McCaffrey is the heart and soul of the event.
"Ed's always given back to the community. We were together in San Francisco,and I went to Denver, we brought him to Denver. We were actually there (Denver) for a fundraiser for Brian Griese (Judi's House) and Ed was telling me he was coming out to Baltimore, and they were going to have a big get together for Down Syndrome. I told him I wasn't too far away, I'm a 45 minute, hour drive. He asked me if I could come out there and talk to the team, I said I'd be more than happy too. It's a great cause. I'm happy to do it."
McCaffrey, according to Pamela Wood of the Capital Gazette, http://bit.ly/M0CHw4, said “This is one of the biggest blessings I’ve ever had in my life. We’ve had so much fun doing it in Colorado. We’re so happy to be in Annapolis to do our first one here.”
Make no mistake, the camp was not a fund raising mission, which is mostly unusual in today's day and age. It was a time and effort investment. All charitable causes are great, but this was a day that my family and I, along with hundreds of others will never forget.
Shanahan, many Redskins fans may not be aware; is a completely different person behind the scenes than he comes across as in a press conference or on the sidelines, which is to say he is intense. I have had the opportunity to see what I feel is the real Mike Shanahan, as many others that know him well, have seen and already realize.
"I think I'm very fortunate to be in the position I am in. What I'm doing is representing the Washington Redskins. If I can go to an event, help raise some money or go to a hospital, and put a smile on a kids face, you feel fortunate, just because you are the head coach, you are in a position to help people, and I enjoy doing it"
Shanahan, had limited experience dealing with Down Syndrome children before Saturday, but specifically remembered an event with the Special Olympics one time, that he called 'one of the most fun afternoons I've had, because everybody was so happy."
Shanahan, wanted the kids to enjoy themselves, but ever the coach, was somewhat worried before the game about fundamentals, when I asked him if he was drawing up anything special for the opening play.
"First play, we're gonna make sure we have the Quarterback-Center exchange first, then we'll go from there. We'll have some fun though." Surely enough, the snap exchange on the first play for Shanahan's Dragons, was perfect.
Both teams were competitive, managed the clock perfectly, with Billick's Honey Badgers tying the game up at 21-21 just before the half.
Billick told me at halftime on the public address that he was going to run a double reverse to try and pull one over on Shanahan's team. While that didn't exactly happen, the Badgers drew first blood after halftime as both teams went back and forth.
Shanahan's Dragons tied the game up at 35-35 with less than a minute to play, executing the 'four-minute offense' perfectly.
Perhaps Robert Griffin III, one day, will execute the four-minute drive at the end of a game as the Dragon's did. After all, the Dragons and RG III have something in common. The same head coach.
Shanahan didn't bother taking any time outs, in the final drive to save clock. He had faith that his team was going to score, and even if they had not scored, the man who has won two Super Bowls and has 154 regular season wins, said "I think just being out there, we all win."
Couldn't have said it any more perfect, Coach. Thank you.
**Special thanks to Trish Morris, Michelle Sie Whitten, Maureen Harrington, Judianne Atencio, Anca Call, Tony Wyllie, Daniel Sampson and many others for their help in coordinating and promoting this terrific event.