Pro Football Hall of Famer John Mackey flew into Dulles International Airport Thursday night thinking he was going to play a round of golf with 39 other hall of famers yesterday morning. But when Mackey found out former Redskin Bobby Mitchell needed tennis players for his ninth annual charity event at Lansdowne Resort in Ashburn, he gladly volunteered.
Mackey, the former Baltimore Colts tight end, was one of 40 ex-football and basketball players who showed up to play in the Bobby Mitchell Hall of Fame Golf and Tennis Classic. The event had been strictly a golf event in past years, but Mitchell decided to add tennis this year. Even though he had some trouble coaxing the hall of famers out of their golf carts and onto the hard courts, both Mackey and former Philadelphia Eagles great Tommy McDonald jumped at the chance to play tennis, even though Mackey had not played the sport before Saturday.
"At least I don't kill anybody with golf balls playing tennis," said Mackey, who used a borrowed tennis racquet and shoes to play.
Mackey took a lesson with Cyrus Zolghadri, who works for The Quarterback Club and is the tennis pro at Lansdowne, Saturday to prepare for the four round-robin matches. Mackey and Zolghadri won three of the four matches.
Despite the addition of tennis, scramble-style golf was still the focus of the event. Former Redskins wide receiver Charley Taylor and his group won with a 14-under-par 58 and took home Orlimar drivers as prizes.
About 150 golfers paid $5,000 per foursome to get a chance to play a round with the hall of famers, and Dave Rohlfing of Baltimore said it was well worth it.
"It's pretty impressive being out here with all these guys," said Rohlfing, who played with former Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Billy Shaw. "I get to see all the athletes I rooted for -- and against -- when I was a kid. Back then it was a much more personal connection that kids had with athletes."
That personal connection was evident yesterday as the former pros signed numerous autographs for adults and children. Former San Francisco 49ers running back Joe "Jet" Perry even called a group of kids over to the 10th tee box for a short autograph session.
The Classic had a relatively inauspicious beginning back in 1990, with 18 hall of famers and few sponsors. Mitchell said he was disappointed when it raised only $40,000 for the Leukemia Society of America in its first year. But the event now has raised more than $1.5 million in its nine years.
"I never really have to arm-twist to get people here," said Mitchell, a Hall of Fame running back who played with the Redskins in the 1960s. "There were a lot of things going against it at the beginning, but now I see guys here that I didn't even think would come, it makes me feel like people like me."