MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Troy University fans and friends gathered Saturday night at the Renaissance Hotel to honor Trojans football coach Larry Blakeney for his 20 years of service.
The highlight of the evening came when Allan Owen, a member of the Troy University Board of Trustees, read a proclamation renaming the playing surface at Veterans Memorial Stadium as Larry Blakeney Field. "No one said gotcha, but they got me," Blakeney said of the honor.
"This is a celebration of Troy University, this is not about me." Blakeney was roasted by friends David Housel, Bob Butterworth and Pat Sullivan as well as former Troy player Lawrence Tynes on behalf of more than 20 former players in attendance who went on to have NFL careers.
Mr. College Football, Tony Barnhart, served as the master of ceremonies for the night. The evening opened with Housel, who was a childhood friend of Blakeney's in Gordo, Ala., before going on to become the Sports Information Director and, eventually, Director of Athletics at Auburn. Housel talked about playing cowboys and indians with Blakeney, with the two of them always being the Lone Ranger and Tonto.
He said the only time they ever had a problem as kids was when they played Lassie and Blakeney always got to be Timmy. "We are blood brothers," Housel said. "I am proud to call you my friend and my brother."
Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan, the current head coach at Samford University, spoke next. He talked about Blakeney going in at quarterback for Auburn in a game in 1966 when Sullivan was on a recruiting visit. Blakeney led the team down the field for the winning touchdown.
He also told stories of their days playing together under Coach Ralph "Shug" Jordan and, eventually, coaching together at Auburn under Coach Doug Barfield. "Coach Barfield sent me out with Larry so that he could teach me how to recruit when I first became a coach," Sullivan said. "We were going up to Vestavia and we stopped at the Western Supermarket to use the pay phone to check in. Larry left the car running, with the keys in the ignition, and locked the doors to go make that call. Of course, when we got back, we couldn't get into the car and had to call the police. I really appreciate him taking me out and teaching me the ropes."
Sullivan closed his remarks by agreeing with something Troy University Chancellor, Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., said early in the evening. "I'll agree with Dr. Hawkins in that I think you have the best coach in America sitting right here," Sullivan said.
Other rosters included former Troy player Bob Butterworth, who referred to Blakeney as "the face of Troy football." Lawrence Tynes of the New York Giants, who is one of three players to have played for Blakeney before going on to earn a Super Bowl ring in the NFL, spoke on behalf of more than 20 players to played for Blakeney at either Auburn or Troy.
"Forgive me if I say Troy State tonight because that is what it was when I went to school there," Tynes said. "All of us guys in the NFL know about shooting those head shots for Monday Night Football where we say our name and where we went to school. "I always say Troy State. Osi (Umenyiora), I'm not sure what he says, I think it's University of Troy. Of course DeMarcus (Ware) always represents us well and says Troy University. Leodis McKelvin, I don't know what he says because Buffalo is never on Monday Night Football." Tynes said the greatest thing about Blakeney is a coach is that he helps the young men he coaches grow into the men they want to be. "We all arrived as wide-eyed teenagers and we all left as men," Tynes said. "Playing football is just a fraction of our lives, and the things we learned from Coach Blakeney are things we will carry with us for the rest of our lives." Tynes also said he has a favorite, cherished, memory from his time at Troy.
"One of the things I always remember and cherish is the memory of Coach Blakeney grabbing that chair or stool in the locker room and leading us in singing the fight song," Tynes said.
Blakeney closed the night talking about how far Troy University has come in the last 20 years, and also about how far they still have to go. "We have done some great things over the last 20 years, but there have been great things going on at Troy University for a lot longer than that," Blakeney said. "There are members of the 1968 national championship team here tonight, as well as guys from the 1984 and 1987 title teams.