By Tom Peace & Chris Goldberg
TopLaxRecruits.com, Posted 11/20/16
COLUMBIA, Md. – The message came from a DynaVox and by use of the blink of an eye, but O.J. Brigance’s message came in loud and clear to hundreds of players, coaches and lacrosse fans on what it takes to be successful on and off the field last weekend at the Big 12 Fall Invitational at Blandair Park.
“I have been able to experience being a champion two times in my professional football career,” said Brigance, the Baltimore Ravens’ senior adviser to player development and a survivor of ALS. “Many factors must align themselves to be the top team, but if you don’t have the right people with the right skills set and attitude in place when the opportunity presents itself the chances for success are to be minimized.”
Brigance – a member of the Ravens’ 2001 Super Bowl championship team – was diagnosed in 2007 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a motor neuron disease. In 2008, OJ and his wife, Chanda, created the Brigance Brigade Foundation. The mission of the Brigance Brigade Foundation is to equip, encourage, and empower people living with ALS (PALS) to live life through the provision of much needed equipment, resource guidance and support services as well as funding various ALS research initiatives.
Kevin Mayer, Co-Director of Rock Lacrosse, in close collaboration with Co-Director George Parks and Howard County Recreation and Parks, created the Big 12 tourney in 2015 to raise funds while providing a highly competitive recruiting showcase event. Coach Mayer’s father, Frank, passed away from ASL in 2001 and a proceeds from the event are donated to the Brigance Brigade.
The Fighting Clams (MA) 2020 team, coached by Justin Walker, won the Team Challenge by raising $750. Overall, the teams alone raised $3,240; soon the overall total raised will be released.
“We’re big into charity and we do one or two events every year,” said Walker. “We pick a different cause and try to educate players. Our players and parents know it’s important to our organization and they took it and ran with it without me even pushing it. That means we are instilling the right things. I am proud of the families that helped out. I was very excited to hear we had won – it means at this point we are giving and I don’t need to crack the whip.”
Brigance gave these words in his speech:
“We all like success and being on the top of the mountain, but there are four opponents that can derail us from our destiny. At the Ravens’ facility when you walk in the players entrance there is a sign above the door – it not only applies to building a championship football team, but applies to every industry into life itself.
“It’s titled, ‘4 Fights Every Day’ and the first fight is us against them,” he said. “The competitor on the opposite sideline is looking to take the victory from you. This adversary is easy to see; they are the teams with the different uniforms from us. We study their strengths and weaknesses and plan the edge to give us the victory.
“The second fight we face every day is the division from within. We can get along when things are going well, however, when adversity strikes stress is placed on each individual and some can splinter from the team and pursue personal aspirations and objectives instead of pursuing the team’s vision. We must always be on guard against irritants that will try to divide our teams.
“The third fight we face daily is complacency. We must constantly fight the urge to accept the status quo and push for the very best life has to offer. We need to be constantly reevaluating our relationship to our ultimate goals and aspirations. Once they are achieved we must raise the bar even higher and never just be satisfied with yesterday’s victory. Always look for the next challenge to accomplish. Strengthen yourselves beyond your comfort zone.
“The fourth and final fight we face daily is fatigue. Fatigue comes both physically en emotionally as we all know that’s why athletes train themselves relentlessly so when the real test of competition arrives the body has already withstood rigorous training and wear and tear and is ready to compete at the highest level.”
People with ALS are given 3-5 years to live. The disease shuts off motor neurons the brain sends to the spinal cord and ALS patients get weaker, stop walking, stop talking. Swallowing becomes difficult. Breathing, eventually, becomes impossible.
But O.J. Brigance has shown he can overcome almost anything. As an undersized linebacker he went from Rice in 1991 to the Canadian Football League, and later to the Miami Dolphins when no NFL team wanted him. Then the Ravens signed him and on the opening kickoff he made the first tackle of Super Bowl XXXV.
Brigance writes with his eyeballs. His DynaVox computer has eye-recognition software that chooses a letter when he blinks at it. After a few letters it gives him some word choices. He keeps identifying letters until the word he wants pops onto the screen. Then he looks at that word and blinks.