The Bronko Nagurski Award has come a long way in the 20 years it’s been presented by the Charlotte Touchdown Club.
For instance, all the finalists for the award now actually show up for the banquet, which is scheduled for Monday night at the Westin Hotel in uptown Charlotte.
That hasn’t always been the case for an award – given to the country’s top defensive player – that has now become among the most prestigious of college football’s many postseason honors.
“I remember waiting at the airport for two finalists one year, and neither showed up,” said club president John Rocco. “One year, we had just one finalist come, and he didn’t even win the award. We had 25 people at the banquet some years.”
Things are different now. When this year’s award is presented Monday, a sellout crowd of nearly 1,000 will hear Alabama coach Nick Saban give the keynote address. The banquet will be televised on the CBS Sports Network on Dec. 12.
And all five finalists – Texas tackle Malcolm Brown, Alabama defensive back Landon Collins, Mississippi defensive back Senquez Golson, Louisville defensive back Gerod Holliman and Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright – will be in attendance.
“To see where we’ve come from, from where we started, is amazing,” Rocco said.
The Touchdown Club was founded in 1990 in anticipation of the arrival of the Carolina Panthers, who began playing five years later. In 1995, the club also partnered with the Football Writers Association of America to bring the award banquet to Charlotte.
There’s more to the Touchdown Club than presenting the Nagurski Award, which has had winners that have included Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly (2011), Georgia defensive back Champ Bailey (1998) and former Panthers linebacker Dan Morgan (2000). It’s a non-profit organization that supports athletics throughout a seven-county region surrounding Charlotte. It has an endowment that has grown from $25,000 to more than $1 million, donating more than $650,000 to area students and athletic programs over the years.
In 2010, the club raised $50,000 to help save middle-school athletics in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.
“Those things we do with the schools are what we are most proud of,” Rocco said. “That’s our mission.”