Virgen's View: Meyer lauded as hero

Newport Beach should be proud an event like the Ronnie Lott IMPACT Trophy ceremony is held in its city every year.

The Pacific Club, in Newport Beach, should also be proud of a fascinating award and yet another compelling ceremony.

It was a memorable evening Sunday at the Pacific Club, where Luke Kuechly of Boston College won the Ronnie Lott Trophy. But there was more to the night than a well-deserved winner.

This was more about a Hall of Fame defensive back, one of the hardest hitters of all time, stepping aside from announcing the winner of his own award and asking a hero to do the honors.

Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer announced the Lott Trophy winner. Meyer struggled to pronounce Kuechly (keek-lee), but that was his only downfall.

Meyer is the most recent recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was there to accept the Honorary Lott IMPACT Trophy.

IMPACT is an acronym for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Community and Tenacity. Meyer is a strong example of that. He says he's not a hero, but no one can deny his remarkable acts back in 2009.

The Congressional Medal of Honor is the nation's highest award for valor. It was a reason I was stuck waiting to interview Meyer because so many people wanted to take a picture with him.

During the ceremony, those in attendance gave Meyer a standing ovation after a video about him was played.

Meyer said he did what any other Marine would do, and that his work was simply the result of reacting to an opportunity.

He, along with other members of his unit, fought to rescue a quartet that had been trapped by heavy enemy fire. According to reports, as many as 150 Taliban fighters were ambushing them near the village of Ganjgal, located in a valley along the border with Pakistan.

Meyer killed at least eight insurgents as he manned the Humvee's turret gun. He rescued 36 Afghan and American troops. That was the result of four attempts. He went back in on a fifth attempt, only to find the quartet had been killed in the fighting. He gathered their remains.

As the video played, Meyer's eyes watered. He couldn't smile as the narrator talked about his humble background from Kentucky. He only nodded his head when people stood and clapped for him.

He later shook his head in an aw-shucks manner when Lott asked him to announce the winner.

I asked him what advice he would give to a first-year Marine. His response seemed to apply to anyone who has a goal in mind.

"You go in and take it one day at a time," he said. "You have to understand the bigger picture. You can't think so much of all that's going on around you. But know that it will all make sense in the end."

Meyer seemed to receive much more fanfare than the four finalists and the big names at the dinner.

The other finalists were Emmanuel Acho of Texas, Alabama's Dont'a Hightower and Notre Dame's Manti Te'o.

Marcus Allen, Ron Yary and keynote speaker Brent Musberger were among several big names there. They all stood and applauded Meyer.

Kuechly said it was the best of both worlds to win an award named after such a great player and to have it be presented by a hero.

Kuechly, a 6-foot-3, 237-pound junior linebacker, led the nation in tackles each of the past two seasons. He also earned the Butkus Award (top linebacker) and Lombardi Award (top lineman/linebacker) this year. On Monday, he won the Bronko Nagurski Award for being the nation's top defensive player.

Acho, Hightower and Te'o playfully punched Kuechly in his gut after it was announced that he won. Kuechly was still standing. For winning the Lott Trophy, Boston College received $25,000 for its general scholarship fund. Each of the finalists' schools received $5,000.

The college football award also takes character into account. Kuechly is an honor student at Boston College, an officer on the student-athlete advisory committee and a participant in the HEAR (Help Educate through Athletic Responsibility) program, which involves him visiting local schools and sharing experiences as student-athletes.

Kuechly, who stood and applauded Meyer, said it was a memorable night.

He is the eighth Lott trophy winner. The event gets better each year. It's a gem for Newport Beach.

Twitter: @SteveVirgen

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