The New York Jets hosted their 13th annual Kickoff Luncheon on Wednesday afternoon and raised $800,000 for the New York Jets Foundation and the Alliance for Lupus Research (ALR).
About 700 people, including every current player and coach in the organization, a handful of Green & White alumni, the Jets Flight Crew Cheerleaders and our newest addition to the team, the Aviators Drum Line, made their way to Cipriani Wall Street's banquet hall in New York City for the event.
"Community service is part of who we are as the New York Jets," said Woody Johnson, the Jets chairman and CEO and co-chair of the event along with John Paulson.
Johnson founded the ALR in 1999 after his daughter was diagnosed with lupus. The autoimmune disease affects 1.5 million Americans, 90 percent of which are women. The goal of ALR, Johnson said, is to "put itself out of business," which it will only do by finding a cure.
The mothers of offensive linemen Willie Colon and Austin Howard suffer from the disease as well.
Colon's mom has had lupus since he was in first grade. "She's fighting every day," Colon said, "and I'm fighting for her every time I'm on the field."
Howard's mother was diagnosed with the disease more recently. From talking with his mom, Howard has learned about the hardships associated with lupus. There are good days and bad days, he said, and on bad days, you can't even go out in public, as you're too weak to even dress yourself.
Of course, while community service is part of who we are, taking the field on Sundays is another part, and no Jets event would be complete without talking some football. Head coach Rex Ryan spoke to the crowd before calling up center Nick Mangold and linebackers Demario Davis and Nick Bellore, representing the offense, defense and special teams respectively.
What makes this team so special, Ryan said after being introduced by master of ceremonies Bob Wischusen, is that the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.
"We know what the so-called experts are saying, but we really cannot wait for opening day," Rex said. "We get to show the entire NFL what the New York Jets are all about, and believe me, are we looking forward to it."
Davis said what's written on paper can't account for the chemistry that the players on this year's roster have with one another.
"We're a family and these are my brothers," he said. "Eleven brothers are hard to beat."
"We have a really great group of guys that are under the radar," Bellore said of the special teams. "We all have a chip on our shoulder, and we have something to prove in this league."
"This is a lot bigger than football," Bellore said. And that statement couldn't be more true.
Regardless of where we finish in the standings this season, next season, or any season after that, events like the Kickoff Luncheon serve as an important reminder that winning or losing a football game is not a life-or-death situation.
"I think the Jets are number one in terms of being committed to our community and being committed to young people," Johnson said, "and we're going to continue to try to do a better job each and every year."
Fans can read more about the cause and learn how to help find a cure to lupus here.