Four-time Olympic gold medalist Olga Korbut was among the celebrities on hand Thursday at the 49th annual York Sports Night program.
Four-time Olympic gold medalist Olga Korbut was among the celebrities on hand Thursday at the 49th annual York Sports Night program. (Bil Bowden photo)

Local sports fans got the opportunity to rub elbows with some well-known sports celebrities on Thursday night at the 49th annual York Sports Night program at the Heritage Hills Golf Resort and Conference Center.

The event began back in 1964, and has showcased numerous legends over the years, such as Roberto Clemente, Joe DiMaggio and Franco Harris.

This year, Sports Night president Ron Tombesi, and vice president Mike Harvey, along with the rest of the board members, put together another impressive roster of athletes on a shoestring budget.

With the Baltimore Ravens' recent Super Bowl victory fresh on the minds of many in the area, fans got the chance to meet a pair of former Baltimore NFL stars from another era -- Colts standouts Mike Curtis and Lydell Mitchell.

York Revolution manager Mark Mason, center, signs autographs while flanked by pitching coach John Halama, left, and the Revs mascot.
York Revolution manager Mark Mason, center, signs autographs while flanked by pitching coach John Halama, left, and the Revs mascot. (Bil Bowden photo)

For those who may not know, the "Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle" phrase that the current Ravens running back uses, actually originated with Mitchell, a star back with the Colts and at Penn State. Colts coach Tom Marchibroda would always say "Hey diddle diddle, it's Lydell up the middle."

When Mitchell was asked if he's seen any royalties sent his way from Rice, he laughed and said: "I should have trademarked it back in those days, that's what I should have done."

Curtis, the 1970 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, was considered one of the most-intense, hardest-hitting linebackers to ever play the game. Curtis is often remembered as the guy who clothes-lined a drunken fan who ran onto the field during a game.

"He was such a scrawny little guy," Curtis laughed, after a fan recalled the famous event.

Both Curtis and Mitchell played in a different era when it came to player safety. The game is changing now, with the emergence of new technology and concussion awareness.

"When you have 1,500 channels now, you can look at it even closer," Curtis said.

He also said that the safety concerns can be taken too far.

"They shouldn't play football at all if they want to be safe," Curtis said.

Former Baltimore Colts star Mike Curtis signs autographs at Thursdays event.
Former Baltimore Colts star Mike Curtis signs autographs at Thursdays event. (Bil Bowden photo)

One of the staple ingredients at York Sports Night is the presence of a Baltimore Orioles player. This year, former Orioles center fielder Paul Blair met with fans and reminisced about his seemingly effortless playing style in the outfield. He played 12 years for the Orioles from 1964-1976, winning eight Gold Gloves.

Usually, the only time the ball got over Blair's head was when it went over the fence. But Blair believes defense is becoming a lost art.

"Today, defense is not as important, it's all about offense now," he said.

Blair was also well known for his ability to lay down the perfect bunt -- another skill that is becoming increasingly rare these days.

"In my third year, during spring training, my coach, Russ Snyder, said it (bunting) was something that would come in handy," Blair said.

Blair used bunting primarily because of his speed, but also to break out of batting slumps.

Blair wasn't the only former baseball player to visit York for the big night. Arguably one of the biggest draws was former Chicago Cubs pitcher Fergie Jenkins. The Hall of Fame Cy Young hurler played 19 years with six different teams, mostly with the Cubs.

The event also included four-time Olympic gold medalist Olga Korbut. Her table was undoubtedly the most unique, because it included her four gold and two silver medals she earned at the 1972 and 1976 Summer Games. She was the first gymnast to be inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame back in 1988.

The biggest surprise of the night was when Susquehannock High School graduate Chaz Powell and 16 other former Penn State football players started filling the room.

"All of this came about in the last seven to 10 days," Harvey said in reference to the appearance by the PSU players.

Powell earned a spot on the Green Bay Packers' practice team late in the 2012 NFL season.

In three weeks, the Sports Night board members will begin preparations for next year's show.

"We will review the evening, what was good, what was bad," Tombesi said.

Next year will mark the 50th York Sports Night and Tombesi already has one name at the top of his wish list.

"I would love to bring in Cal Ripken Jr.," he said. "We have reached out to him and we're waiting to hear back."

-- Reach Corey Righter at sports@yorkdis patch.com.