AL HAMNIK: McLegends game scores big time with kids, fans

2014-05-03T18:00:00Z 2014-05-05T15:46:04Z AL HAMNIK: McLegends game scores big time with kids, fansAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
May 03, 2014 6:00 pm  • 

HIGHLAND | Green Bay Packers' fans can rest easy. Mike Neal, their talented defensive end/linebacker, was a no-show Saturday and that elated Cheesehead Nation.

Neal didn't make it to the annual Ronald McDonald's charity game between the McLegends All-Stars and their high school counterparts because NFL franchises usually frown upon that sort of thing, unless it's team sponsored and playing time can be monitored.

Given Neal's history of flukey injuries in Green Bay – 64 games played in four seasons – why risk another in a recreational sport?

Actually, he's almost fully recovered from a knee injury suffered in last season's 23-20 playoff opening loss to the 49ers.

Neal appeared in only nine games his first two seasons and fans, even some media, wondered if Green Bay's patience would hold up.

It did. Two words: Great potential.

The Carolina Panthers' Kawann Short (E.C. Central) and Philadelphia Eagles' Dennis Kelly (Marian Catholic) did suit up for the McLegends, who rolled 161-124.

All three region stars, Purdue grads by the way, have promising NFL careers if they can stay healthy.

Neal had his healthiest season in 2013, with 10 of his 11 career starts coming then. He responded with 47 tackles, five sacks and one interception.

Short, a second-round pick, had 30 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks as a backup defensive tackle his rookie season. Kelly, a fifth-round pick in 2012, is a right offensive tackle for the Eagles.

Neither were embarrassed on the court Saturday.

Short's 3-point play opened the scoring. He added a 3-point shot moments later and had seven first-half rebounds. Moving him from under the basket required a fork lift, which the high school stars forgot to bring.

"I heard No. 25 (Keenan Simmons) is going Division I and he tried to body me. I told him it wasn't going to be easy," said the 6-foot-3, 310-pound Short, all smiles.

Short contributed 12 points and 15 rebounds in limited play during the 12-minute quarters.

"They called and asked me if I'd play, and I wasn't all in at first," he said. "But it was something to do to get away from Charlotte (N.C.) for the weekend – and it was for the kids.

"Just being here brings back memories. I played a lot of games in this gym."

Kelly shared the same sentiment while out on the floor. Have fun. Compete at a certain level, but don't go crazy.

"Whenever you do anything, a pickup game or whatever, you've got to be smart," Kelly said. "If I saw a cluster (of players), I tried to avoid that. And when I saw 'KK' coming down the lane, I got out of the way."

Kelly had three points, nailing a smooth 3 from top of the key. Dude's 6-8, 320.

"I don't know where that came from," he laughed.

The mixed crowd was into it start to finish and the Jesse White Tumblers put on a halftime show worthy of Olympic gold while sailing high above assorted obstacles, doing doubles, triples, backflips and rolls off a small trampoline.

I kidded Short afterward, saying we had been told he might join in on the air show.

"Got the call too late," he replied, shaking his head.

"You always want to try to give back, considering the fortunate position I'm in," Kelly said.

Saturday afternoon, it was the Ronald McDonald Charities that were the most fortunate. Counting Friday night's girls game, the event pulled in more than $10,000.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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