The spirit of the 72nd East-West Shrine Game was captured two
days before kickoff on a patch of grass outside Stanford
Stadium. There, surrounded by barbecuing hot dogs, spools of
cotton candy and a troupe of crazily bewigged clowns, players
from both college all-star teams sat beneath a tent signing
autographs. While lines leading to stars such as Arizona State
and West team quarterback Jake Plummer snaked back dozens deep,
the less heralded players were also held in awe. "Look," gushed
one teen after scanning the East team photo, "there's Lance
Funderbruk of Valadosta College!"
Well, almost. It was actually Lance Funderburk of Valdosta State
in Georgia, the first Division II quarterback ever selected for
the Shrine game. By any name, he was happy to be there. "I've
never been further west than El Paso," said Funderburk, who grew
up in tiny Blackshear, Ga. "There's all these mountains out
here, and that Golden Gate Bridge. Wow!"
Even in his golly-gosh wonder, Funderburk never forgot that he
had a dream hanging in the balance. He may have thrown for 4,226
yards and 38 touchdowns this season, but the week of the Shrine
game--a time when passels of pro scouts hover around
practices--can make or dash a small-school player's draft
prospects. "I just hope one team fell in love with me,"
Funderburk said after last Saturday's game. "I don't need all
30, just one."
Time will tell what Funderburk accomplished with his solid
practices and his 2-for-6 passing performance, which included a
20-yard touchdown toss to Southwest Louisiana's Kenyon Cotton
that helped the East win 17-13. What there's no doubt about is
that he'll long remember the whirlwind week of player-feting
during which he met collegians from faraway Hamilton, Ont.
(defensive end Mark Farraway of St. Francis Xavier University),
and farther-away Japan (defensive end Takaaki Kawata of Kwansei
Gankuin University near Osaka, who--home hemisphere be
damned--suited up for the West). The all-stars bonded over such
thrills as meeting actor Pat Morita (The Karate Kid) at the
player awards dinner. "Hey! That's Mr. Miyagi," exclaimed Utah
defensive back Harold Lusk to Kansas State receiver Kevin Lockett.
Funderburk, 22, is a modest young man and an earnest Christian
who spends an hour each morning praying and reading the Bible.
And as dazzled as he was by the attention--he'd never appeared
on national television at Valdosta State--Funderburk was most
deeply affected by the players' trip to the San Francisco
Shriners Hospital. There he met nine-year-old Nicole Farley, who
is paralyzed from the armpits down as a result of a car
accident. Nicole showed Funderburk how she had learned to walk
using crutches to drag her legs. "She was so proud," he said
last Thursday. "It reminded me that as much as I love football,
there are more important things."
Chief among them is his close-knit family. Lance's parents,
Steve and Nancy, attended every game of Funderburk's college
career and flew in for the Shrine game, their own maiden voyage
to California. Funderburk's fiancee, Malisa Martin, did not make
the trip, perhaps because she was still giddy from the
on-his-knees, on-the-turf proposal Funderburk delivered moments
after Valdosta State beat Central Arkansas 63-30 on Nov. 9 in
the Gulf South Conference title game.
With the week's revels ended and the pageantry all but faded
late Saturday afternoon, Funderburk looked back at Stanford's
emptying stadium, where he had just taken his last college snap.
"Just being on that field with players I watch on TV was a
thrill," he said. "It's my dream to go to the NFL. But if I
never strap on the pads again, I'll look back at this week and
say it was a great way to go out."