Baltimore Ravens senior advisor to player development O.J. Brigance, whose continuing battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) serves as an inspiration to many and who has helped raise research funds to fight the disease via his Brigance Brigade foundation, has been selected as the 2014 George Halas Award winner by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).
Brigance, the 45th Halas Award winner, is the first member of the Ravens franchise to receive the honor from the PFWA.
The Halas Award is given to a NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed. The award is named for Halas, a charter member (1963) of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, who was associated with the Chicago Bears and NFL from their inception in 1920 until his death in 1983 as an owner, manager, player and promoter. Halas won 324 games and six NFL titles in 40 seasons as a coach.
In May 2007, Brigance was diagnosed with ALS. He partnered with the Johns Hopkins University Packard Center for ALS Research and became their ALS ambassador. In 2008, the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation saluted him with the Johnny Unitas Tops in Courage Award for his strength in his ALS battle. He earned an 2008 Emmy Award as the host of the team’s weekly TV show, “Ravens Report”.
He was the honorary chair of the annual Fiesta 5K run six times (2008-13), and the event raised over $1 million in those six years for the Packard Center. He established his own foundation, the Brigance Brigade (brigancebrigade.org), to raise awareness and money for ALS research and patient services. The foundation hosted a 5.7k (his NFL uniform number) run in Baltimore this spring that raised $110,000.
Brigance continues to work for the Ravens as senior advisor to player development. He works closely with director of player development Harry Swayne to assist Ravens players with each career phase.
Brigance, who just completed his 10th season in the Ravens front office, played seven years with three NFL teams (Miami, Baltimore and St. Louis) and five years in the Canadian Football League with the British Columbia Lions and the Baltimore Stallions as a linebacker. Brigance earned two championship rings as a player, both in Baltimore (a CFL Grey Cup ring with the Stallions in 1995 and the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV) and one as a front office member with the Ravens for Super Bowl XLVII.
Brigance retired after the 2002 season, and he joined the Ravens front office in 2004 as the club’s director of player development. His department was selected as the NFL’s 2005 and 2006 Best Overall Player Development Program, the 2005 Most Outstanding Internship Program and the 2007 Outstanding Continuing Education Program. Brigance’s wife, Chanda, facilitated the Lady Ravens Association, coordinating involvement for the players’ and coaches’ spouses and significant others for many years.
“O.J. Brigance is the most influential person in our organization,” said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. “In a building of strong men, he is the strongest we have. You are energized each and every day to see how he attacks every day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind, and we are blessed to have such an inspiring man with us every day.”
ABOUT THE PFWA: The Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA) is the official voice of pro football writers, promoting and fighting for access to NFL personnel to best serve the public. The PFWA is made up of accredited writers who cover the NFL and the 32 teams on a daily basis. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter, who covers the Atlanta Falcons, is the organization’s president for 2013-15, while ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold, who covers the Denver Broncos, is the PFWA’s first vice-president and long-time national writer Dan Pompei is the organization’s second vice-president. Follow the PFWA at ProFootballWriters.org and on Twitter at @PFWAwriters.
GEORGE HALAS AWARD WINNERS (To the NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed): 1970 – Joe Namath (New York Jets); 1971 – Gale Sayers (Chicago Bears); 1972 – Tom Dempsey (New Orleans Saints); 1973 – Jimmy Johnson (San Francisco 49ers); 1974 – Mike Tilleman (Atlanta Falcons); 1975 – Dick Butkus (Chicago Bears); 1976 – Billy Kilmer (Washington Redskins); 1977 – Tom DeLeone (Cleveland Browns); 1978 – Pat Fischer (Washington Redskins); 1979 – Bert Jones (Baltimore Colts); 1980 – Roger Staubach (Dallas Cowboys); 1981 – Rolf Benirschke (San Diego Chargers); 1982 – Joe Klecko (New York Jets); 1983 – Eddie Lee Ivery (Green Bay Packers); 1984 – Ted Hendricks (Los Angeles Raiders); 1985 – John Stallworth (Pittsburgh Steelers); 1986 – Gary Jeter (Los Angeles Rams); 1987 – William Andrews (Atlanta Falcons); 1988 – Joe Montana (San Francisco 49ers); 1989 – Karl Nelson (New York Giants); 1990 – Tim Krumrie (Cincinnati Bengals); 1991 – Dan Hampton (Chicago Bears); 1992 – Mike Utley (Detroit Lions); 1993 – Mark Bavaro (Cleveland Browns); 1994 – Joe Montana (San Francisco 49ers); 1995 – Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins); 1996 – Larry Brown (Oakland Raiders); 1997 – Jim Harbaugh (Indianapolis Colts); 1998 – Mark Schlereth (Denver Broncos); 1999 – Dan Reeves (Atlanta Falcons); 2000 – Bryant Young (San Francisco 49ers); 2001 – Kerry Collins (New York Giants); 2002 – Garrison Hearst (San Francisco 49ers); 2003 – Robert Edwards (Miami Dolphins); 2004 – Sam Mills (Carolina Panthers); 2005 – Mark Fields (Carolina Panthers); 2006 – Tony Dungy (Indianapolis Colts); 2007 – Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints); 2008 – Kevin Everett (Buffalo Bills); 2009 – Matt Bryant (Tampa Bay Buccaneers); 2010 – Mike Zimmer (Cincinnati Bengals); 2011 – Mike Heimerdinger (Tennessee Titans); 2012 – Robert Kraft (New England Patriots); 2013 – Chuck Pagano (Indianapolis Colts); 2014 – O.J. Brigance (Baltimore Ravens).