With two rosters that included mostly players from the Baltimore and Washington NFL teams, the Battle of the Beltway Celebrity All-Star Basketball Game, co-hosted by the Torrey Smith Foundation and Ryan Kerrigan Blitz for the Better Foundation, certainly lived up to its name. But more importantly, it accomplished its goal of bringing together two neighboring communities and fan bases for a greater cause.
Both Smith and Kerrigan's foundations have missions that are meant to help the youth in their respective communities, with Kerrigan's foundation primarily focusing on children with autism and other physical challenges. Smith had been holding an annual celebrity basketball game at his high school in previous years, as one of his main ways of producing revenue and awareness for his foundation. But he was excited this year to team up with Kerrigan and bring the show to Comcast Center, allowing them to accommodate a larger audience and subsequently allowing the foundations to affect more people.
"Everyone's coming together for a great cause to help our community, and that's all the way up and down [interstate] 95," Smith said in a press conference before the game. "The more people who come, the more people that join, means the more people we can help through our foundation, and that's what it's all about."
And when Smith said 'everyone' he wasn't kidding. Both teams included pro bowlers and playmakers from both sides of the line of scrimmage, and the rapper Wale even represented his hometown, D.C., by playing for Kerrigan's team. But as Kerrigan, who could only coach his team because of offseason knee surgery, put it in the pre-game press conference, one of the most anticipated parts of the event was going to be seeing how their playmaking abilities lend themselves to another sport.
"I'm just real anxious to see how we all translate into basketball," Kerrigan said. "We all think we were great basketball players in high school."
"That's part of the fun of it," Smith said on the same subject. "Seeing guys who have been practicing for weeks coming out and dribbling the ball off of their toe or something."
To further put the spectacle into perspective, Comcast Center was the only place in the world on Saturday night where you were going to see current Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins pass the ball to all-time Washington great Darrell Green (albeit a more spherical ball than either may be used to), Smith and Anquan Boldin playing on the same team again, and a down-low matchup of behemoths, the Ravens' Haloti Ngata and former Terp, now-Miami Dolphin A.J. Francis.
Other notable players who participated in the event were Baltimore's Jacoby Jones and Terrell Suggs, along with Cleveland Browns' Joe Haden for Smith's team. And for Kerrigan's team, Washington's' DeAngelo Hall was joined by the Carolina Panthers' pass rusher Greg Hardy and Indianapolis Colts' wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. Smith, Francis, and LaQuan Williams were crowd favorites by being the only former Terps.
"My goal is to out-compete [Smith and Williams]," Francis said in the pre-game press conference. "If I'm the best guy at Maryland then I feel like the crowd will get behind me and I will definitely sweep away this MVP."
Francis didn't receive MVP honors, as those went to DeAngelo Hall for Kerrigan's team and Cleveland Browns' wide receiver Tori Gurley for Smith's team. But Francis did answer some of the smack talk that had been going on between him and Smith by hitting the go-ahead bucket with under 30 seconds left, to give Kerrigan's team the 61-59 lead.
That lead did not hold, however, as a goaltending call at the other end tied the game up at 61 and sent the game into a a two-minute, running clock overtime.
The only bucket scored in overtime proved to be the decisive one, as Anquan Boldin missed a close-ranged shot that was put back by Jacoby Jones with just seconds remaining, to give Smith's team the 63-61 victory.
It was a game of runs (as most basketball games are) that had its fair share of above-the-rim acrobatics and misguided air balls. The players even interacted with the fans by throwing giveaways into the stands during stoppages. And as Smith put it, the full effect of a televised basketball game was given off.
"There's more of a family-feel this year," Smith said. "We're able to run it more like a game with TV timeouts and giveaways and a little halftime show and all."
The halftime show in particular was one of the highlights of the night, as a raucous building became all ears when Smith took to half court to present a scholarship that is dedicated to the memory of his brother Tevin Jones, who passed away in 2012 after a motorcycle accident.
Four high schoolers, two from Maryland and two from Virginia, were honored with the inaugural Tevin Jones Scholarship Fund.
"This year we're giving out a scholarship for the first time," Smith said. "It's going to be a big moment for my family, as well as my foundation. Through the scholarship and through the help of others, it allows his name to live on, and he's able to help others even though he's not here, so I'm excited about it and I am thankful for all the support about it."
Altogether, with an excited crowd and an exciting game, the event could not have gone any better for both foundations. Many were entertained, while also knowing they were benefiting something bigger than themselves. And Haden seemed to think that this type of event could be a blueprint for other NFL players who are on different teams but close in proximity like Smith and Kerrigan uniting and benefiting multiple communities.
"We could definitely see this happening, with guys like A.J. Green, he and I are cool," Haden said. "It shows that on the field it's a battle, you're not really suppose to get a long with your opponents. But when you get off the court, when you get off the field, it's friendship...When you get to know somebody, you get to know what they're about, and it's a lot bigger than football."