Legend for Charity: Howie Long honored with prestigious Pat Summerall Award at St. Jude event

Add Pat Summerall Award recipient to Hall of Famer Howie Long’s extensive list of accolades. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – As Pro Football Hall of Famers, coaches and broadcasters took turns lifting bid paddles to donate thousands of dollars that will benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 17-year old Owen Church sat at a table with his family and marveled.

The moment came 13 years after Brian Church, Owen’s father, received the most devastating news a parent can hear – that his then 4-year old son had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of blood cancer that can spread rapidly if not treated.

While he was undergoing treatment at St. Jude, Owen was visited by a hulking former NFL star. It was Howie Long, the former Raiders defensive lineman, Hall of Famer and a member of the “Fox NFL Sunday” broadcast ensemble.

Some 10 years later, Owen was on hand to watch as Long received the prestigious Pat Summerall Award at the St. Jude Legends for Charity dinner for his contributions to cancer research and awareness.

More than 500 people attended the gathering, which was held at the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Phoenix across the street from the NFL Honors awards presentation during Super Bowl week.

Now, it was Long’s turn to marvel.

“As you can imagine, being 5-years old and being treated for cancer…seeing Owen at 5-years old and the one I see now at 17 is amazing,” Long said. “To see him today, St. Jude is about hope.”

The Legends for Charity dinner raised more than $800,000 for St. Jude families in what was the largest Super Bowl fundraiser of the action-packed weekend, and money was still pouring in even after the dinner concluded.

The event has raised more than $10 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital since 2006.

Long has had many unique experiences during his time with Fox, including shooting a show on an aircraft in the Mediterranean and visiting troops around the world, but one of the more inspirational things he experienced was visiting St. Jude and meeting Owen.

Now in high school and cancer free, Church runs cross country and has run the 10K in during St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend, using his passion for running to raise more than $17,000 for St. Jude. In 2019, Church announced the Seattle Seahawks round two draft pick on stage in Nashville, Tennessee.

“It was definitely tough at some points with all the medicine and the chemotherapy that’s going on,” Church said. “But growing and getting to do all these fun things … It’s a really cool experience overall. I’m really excited to keep raising money for St. Jude.”

NFL Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw, Charles Woodson, Chris “Boomer” Berman and other broadcasters were in attendance to support and congratulate Long, who is the 17th recipient of the award.

“He’s a great person, a great family man and he’s a great friend,” said Pro Football Hall of Famer and Fox NFL analyst Jimmy Johnson. “We all want to honor one of our colleagues in Howie Long.”

Last year’s recipient, Erin Andrews, was the first woman to receive the award and last year’s ceremony eventually raised an impressive $2 million for St. Jude. All of the proceeds from the event benefit St. Jude, where its mission has remained the same throughout the years: Finding cures and saving children.

When St. Jude opened in 1962, it was believed that children with cancer could rarely survive. Since then, St. Jude has pushed the survival rate in children with cancer from 20% to 80%. Due to treatments that resulted from St. Jude’s research, four out of five children survive cancer.

And with the help of Legends for Charity, St. Jude continues to improve the odds for children afflicted with cancer.

“It allows us to take care of these kids, with the best kind of treatment that we can possibly give them, without regard to economic circumstance, do that research no one is going to do, and share that research freely,” said Richard C. Shadyac Jr., president and CEO of American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC), the fundraising and advocacy organization founded by actor Danny Thomas to benefit St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

“It also allows us to be in 68 countries around the world and help those low-income countries whose survival rate is 20% or less… and hopefully help raise survival rates from 20% to 60% by 2030.”

The award was named after the late Pat Summerall, former NFL kicker and broadcaster who personally chose the honoree each year until his death in 2013. Summerall was thrilled to know that his name was helping save lives.

The award was created to honor a broadcaster who exemplified Summerall’s characteristics, someone who had an outstanding career and one who made a significant impact in their community.

“(Pat) was blessed to have many awards and accomplishments… when we hooked up with St. Jude, we were the ones who were blessed.” said Cheri Summerall, Summerall’s wife. “It changes so many lives and helps so many people, and he was most proud of that.”

CBS broadcaster and former Cardinals kicker Jay Feely was the committee chair for Legends for Charity. Feely’s niece, Selah, has been affected by cancer several times and was treated at St. Jude.

St. Jude was there every step of the process and provided a sense of comfort, in what could be a scary situation for Feely’s family. St. Jude makes sure that no family receives a bill for treatment, travel, housing, or food, and that is one of many reasons Feely wanted to help the hospital.

“I’ve seen first-hand how unbelievable they are, not just for the patient but for the families in general. It’s pretty special what they do,” Feely said. “The fact that they don’t charge anything for that care or the aftercare… it’s really spectacular. That’s why we wanted to be involved.”

Following the dinner, the auction and a tribute video and speech from NFL Hall of Famer Michael Strahan dedicated to Long’s career, Berman brought Long to the stage.

As he closed his remarks, Long reminded the audience what St. Jude is all about.

“As you leave through these doors tonight,” he said, “just remember that the door is never closed at St. Jude.”

Aaron Schmidt EH-run shmit
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Aaron Schmidt expects to graduate in spring 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in film and media production. In addition to the Phoenix Sports Bureau, Schmidt reports for The Arizona Republic and The State Press. He has also interned with Arizona’s Family and Arizona Sports 98.7.