Sportsman of the Year a good sport

There were many stories to tell about the man of the hour, Rick Neuheisel, Tuesday night. Certainly there was plenty of material for roasting, a requirement for the Orange County Youth Sports Foundation Sportsman of the Year.

Chris Roberts, the voice of UCLA, told a story about a younger Neuheisel. Roberts grabbed the attention of the audience at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa when he talked about Neuheisel's short-lived tryout for the Green Bay Packers.

Neuheisel's first pass broke the finger of an unnamed star receiver of the Packers, Roberts said. That ended the tryout and soon after Neuheisel was sent home. Before his flight, the former UCLA quarterback, who is now the Bruins' coach, spent some time at a bar where he signed a tab to the Green Bay Packers. Roberts said Neuheisel was rather generous that day, offering to pay the bill of strangers in the name of the Packers.

Later in the program after Roberts spoke, Neuheisel confessed and roasted himself.

"Chris Roberts, your Green Bay Packers story is well told. It is true," Neuheisel said. "Anybody who works with the Green Bay Packers can send the bill over to me and I'll be happy to make amends, now that I'm gainfully employed, at least for the time being. Hurry. Hurry."

It was that type of evening filled with jokes and laughs, and not only was Neuheisel the sportsman of the year, but he was overall a good sport about all the roasting.

Just like that tryout with the Packers, Neuheisel didn't need to pay for anything Tuesday night. Or did he? There was some roasting taking place via social networks apparently.

Just how did Neuheisel get the award for sportsman of the year?

"he probably paid for it. And no youth is helped by that man. He's a disgrace! He should be locked up, not honored!" That's what hmartin4sc posted on Twitter about Neuheisel and the event. According to her bio, she is the VP of communications for the USC Alumni Club in Newport Beach and Irvine.

There were plenty of folks with ties to USC at the event, but they weren't as harsh as the woman on Twitter.

Even former USC football coach John Robinson wished Neuheisel luck. But Robinson also warned the UCLA football coach. Robinson was honored as OCYSF Sportsman of the Year in 1987. Later in that year after the football season, Robinson was fired at USC.

Neuheisel obviously hopes to avoid such a fate. He contends this is not a make-or-break year for him, even though the Bruins wrapped up their second 4-8 season in three years. Neuheisel is 15-22 in three seasons at UCLA.

"Tonight we're going to focus on 2011," Tim Johnson said, tongue in cheek.

Johnson is the OCYSF president and teamed with Paul Salata to make it an entertaining evening and a relevant event. Salata left Wednesday for New York. He'll announce the final pick of the NFL Draft on Saturday. He'll do his best to pronounce the name correctly of the new Mr. Irrelevant.

He goofed on at least one name Tuesday, referring to UC Irvine's athletic director as, "Mike Izzi? Or Mike Lizzy? Or whatever."

For the record, it is Izzi.

Former UCLA quarterback Wayne Cook was also in attendance and was among a handful of speakers who had something nice and funny to say about Neuheisel. Former UCLA basketball player Tyus Edney also spoke, as did former UCLA QB Matt Stevens and former Bruin volleyball greats Sinjin Smith and Karch Kiraly.

Adam Krikorian, the UCLA water polo coach who has led teams to 15 national championships, also spoke.

"This has to be the lowest point in your life: a water polo guy roasting you," Krikorian told Neuheisel.

Stan Morrison, the UC Riverside athletic director, offered a bilingual speech, most of it in Spanish, and referred to NCAA bracketology at least once, a clear joke about Neuheisel's scandal at Washington.

Rafer Johnson, the famed track and field star of UCLA, also said a few words, joking that a movie was set to be made of his life and that Neuheisel would be the best guy for the role.

Johnson delivered several jokes. I counted only one in bad taste, and that's pretty good for Johnson. But there had to be some truth that the award for Neuheisel was based on what he will do this year.

It's hard to figure otherwise. There was talk that John Ursini, of Newport Rib Company, helped pitch the idea of Neuheisel receiving the award. Neuheisel was certainly nice about it, and seemed honored.

This does look like to be a make-or-break year for Neuheisel and that's not being harsh. There is plenty of tougher criticism out there about the Bruins coach.

Before the program began Tuesday night, Tori Gabert, a Corona del Mar High student-athlete who attended for her senior project, asked Neuheisel: "How do you feel about biased reporting? Do you ignore it?"

Neuheisel responded with confidence and gave a glimpse of his mentality.

"I think everyone is entitled to their opinion," he said. "I don't worry or spend a lot of time worrying on things you can't control. I think what you do is do your best to change the opinion. Just worry about what you can control."

Neuheisel will try to control a winning season this year.

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