Even before Mike and Mickey Gottfried founded the incredibly impactful Team Focus organization, they were making a huge difference in their adopted hometown of Mobile.
Nowhere is that more evident than their contribution to L’Arche Mobile, where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. L’Arche has existed in Mobile for 45 years, and for the last 25, it has benefited from its annual football dinner fundraiser.
When the golden-anniversary event takes place next Thursday night, May 30, at the University of South Alabama’s Mitchell Center, the Gottfrieds will rightfully be centerstage. If not for the couple’s commitment at the organization’s inception, this awesome annual event would have never become a reality.
Marty O’Malley, director of L’Arche Mobile, readily shows his admiration for the contributions of Mike and Mickey. Their commitment began even before the first dinner.
“Mickey was on the L’Arche board and, like a lot of new board members, was just wondering what her role was going to be,” O’Malley said. “It takes a little time to transition onto our board because we try to determine what skills the board members have and pair that with what they can contribute.”
For Mickey, that was an ability to passionately organize events. And it didn’t hurt that her husband was one of the biggest names in college football broadcasting at the time.
“As soon as we mentioned the possibility of a football dinner, Mickey was gung-ho,” O’Malley said. “She and Mike worked a lot to put that first dinner together.”
What they came up with 25 years ago hardly resembles the program that annually takes place now. Initially the event was held in the 300-seat Clarion Hotel, now the Marriott. Some guests were in attendance, but others, such as Texas head coach Mack Brown, were simply call-in guests. Lee Corso and Kenny Stabler were among the in-person guests that first year — when it finally took place.
“The morning of that first dinner we had a hurricane,” O’Malley said. “We had to postpone it, but we said, ‘let’s see if anyone will show up next week.’ We had to turn people away at the door. Mickey was overjoyed and so were the rest of us. We decided that if we did it once, let’s try it again.”
For the first 10 years, the lineup of speakers continued to improve, largely because of Mike’s deep connections in college football. But there wasn’t the consistent attraction of a coach from both Auburn and Alabama.
Even when the Tigers and Tide did become an annual part of the dinner, it didn’t always go perfectly. O’Malley remembers the affable Tommy Tuberville coming to the dinner shortly after he got the job at Auburn.
“In those days we did a live auction,” O’Malley said. “Tommy signed an Auburn helmet as one of our auction items. Nobody bid on it. I was so embarrassed. Finally Adrian Karsten from ESPN, who was one of our speakers, stood up and bid and saved us.”
Tuberville went on to impress the crowd with his easy delivery. The same couldn’t be said for LSU coach Les Miles, though he was certainly entertaining.
“We have sponsor planes that bring people in to speak,” O’Malley said. “We had a plane headed to Baton Rouge, but at 6 p.m. the plane was stuck in New Orleans and couldn’t get to Baton Rouge because a storm. Les was our main guy and people were excited to hear him. We called up and asked if he would be willing to be on by Skype. This was when Skype was just invented and I don’t think Les knew what it was. I don’t think he ever realized we could see him. The audio wasn’t too bad, but the screen kept freezing because of the bad connection in the storm. It froze in some not-so-great poses, but Les was a good sport about it.”
One of the most frequent out-of-town guests has been Nick Saban, who has made four appearances. This year Alabama fans will get the next best thing, as new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will be in attendance. Defensive line coach Rodney Garner will represent Auburn. I will have the privilege to do a Q&A with both coaches as part of the program, with the idea being that these coaches are much more interesting and entertaining when they’re speaking casually versus having to deliver a prepared speech.
The Reese’s Senior Bowl’s Jim Nagy and QB Country’s David Morris will have a segment. University of South Alabama head coach Steve Campbell will address the crowd on his home turf. Radio personality Chuck Oliver will deliver a message. And three high school coaches who have made a tremendous difference in our community will be honored: Deric Scott, Roger Dearman and Bob Rutledge.
Tickets, which include dinner, are $50 each and can still be purchased by calling 251-438-2094. Doors open at 6 p.m., with the program running from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. I hope to see many of you there for a great evening.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3 – 6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.
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