Ron Jaworski sees bright future for Atlantic City

Staff photo by Michael Ein / Staff Photographer Ron Jaworski jokes with Warren Sapp, Monday, June 15, 2015, during the Ron Jaworski Celebrity Golf Challenge at Blue Heron Pines Golf Club in Galloway Township.

Ron Jaworski leaned his forearms on the padded sideline barrier at Boardwalk Hall and watched the Philadelphia Soul take on the Las Vegas Outlaws in the inaugural DraftKings Boardwalk Bowl in late May.

When the Soul recovered an onside kick, Jaworski, a part-owner of the Arena League franchise, leaped from his front-row seat, let out a yell and began high-fiving nearby fans.

A few minutes later, the 64-year-old former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback ventured onto the field during a timeout, grabbed a microphone and announced that the Soul will be back in Atlantic City next season.

While some businesses have caught the first Uber out of town, Jaworski has made the Atlantic City area a key part of his business ventures.

Earlier this year, Jaworski brought the Maxwell Football Club Awards banquet to Tropicana Casino and Resort, marking the 12th consecutive year the gala has been held in Atlantic City. Two weeks ago, he staged the 31st annual Ron Jaworski Celebrity Golf Challenge at Blue Heron Pines Golf Club in Galloway Township, which he bought three years ago.

"For the last few years, Atlantic City has been getting trashed everywhere," Jaworski said in a recent interview. "As a New Jersey resident and South Jersey business owner, I want to do all I can to fix that and put a positive spin on Atlantic City and the Jersey Shore. I love it here."

That affair began in the spring of 1977, the year that Jaworski was traded from the Los Angeles Rams to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for Pro Bowl tight end Charle Young.

Before training camp began that summer, Eagles linebacker Bill Bergey invited Jaworski and his wife, Liz, to spend a few days at his home in Avalon.

"I had no idea what he was talking about," Jaworski said with a laugh. "I was from Lackawanna, New York, I went to Youngstown State (in Ohio) and I started my NFL career in Los Angeles. I had never heard of the Jersey Shore. But once I got there, I fell in love. I bought a place in Avalon, then moved to Cape May, and now I have a place in Stone Harbor."

Cape May was also the site of his first local business venture.

In 1981, Jaworski and Bergey were part of the group that built Victoria's Walk, a popular condominium complex in the Poverty Beach section of town. He also spent his summers there until 1987, the year he signed with Miami as a free agent after losing his starting job with the Eagles to Randall Cunningham, but still is a frequent visitor.

"We really enjoy the restaurants there," he said. "410 Bank Street and Washington Inn are two of our favorites. Liz and I also celebrated one of our wedding anniversaries at Peter Shields Inn."

Jaworski first started bringing events to the Atlantic City area in 1998, when he moved his celebrity golf tournament to Atlantic City Country Club. The tournament was there until this year, when he moved it to Blue Heron while ACCC undergoes some renovations. But the pre-tourney pairings party was still held at The Pool at Harrah's.

Those earlier tournaments also included a celebrity shoot-out in which a star and his partner would play 10 other teams for nine holes, with one team getting eliminated on each hole. In 1998, one of the celebrities couldn't make it, so Jaworski called his friend, former New York Giants and Eagles quarterback Joe Pisarcik, who was home in Cherry Hill. Pisarcik, who was Jaworski's backup quarterback with the Eagles for five seasons (1980-84) won the tournament and now returns every year.

This year, Jaworski donated some of the proceeds to the NFL Alumni in addition to his Jaws Youth Playbook, which provides help to various youth organizations, including the Atlantic City Police Athletic League. Pisarcik is the president and CEO of NFL Alumni, which provides free medical screenings and other services to former players.

"Ron and I go back a long way," Pisarcik said with a smile. "He'd never admit it, but I carried him the year the Eagles went to the Super Bowl (in 1980). But seriously, he's the best. He's done an awful lot for the Atlantic City area."

His most noteworthy local achievement may be the Maxwell Football Club awards gala, which has been compared to the Heisman Trophy awards show. The difference is that the Maxwell Club recognizes football achievements on every level - high school, college and the NFL - and honors players and coaches.

The banquet used to be held in Philadelphia, but had started to struggle. Jaworski, who is the Maxwell Club president, moved it to Atlantic City, where it has flourished. It was held in the theater at Harrah's for 11 years, but outgrew the arena. The now-closed Revel Casino-Hotel hosted it at its Ovation Hall 2014 before the banquet went to Tropicana's Showroom this year.

Tropicana also hosted the DraftKings Boardwalk Bowl.

"I'm a lifelong football fan, so when the opportunity to get involved with the Maxwell Club and the Soul came about, I was thrilled," Tropicana CEO and president Tony Rodio said. "It's no secret that Atlantic City's been going through some difficult in recent years, but I think Atlantic City's best days are ahead of us and Ron has been a big help. Everyone knows Atlantic City needs to diversify like we've been doing at the Tropicana, and Ron has been doing everything he can to help the Atlantic City area do that."

Jaworski said he has no plans to stop.

Despite a disappointing turnout for the Soul-Outlaws game - attendance was announced at 6,514 but appeared much lower - he said he hopes to stage two games at Boardwalk Hall next year, as well as continuing to bring the Maxwell Football Club awards and his celebrity golf tournament to the area.

"Atlantic City and South Jersey can't be just about gambling," Jaworski said. "You can also go to the beach, the shops, have a glass of wine in the vineyards, and play golf and we need more people to know that. The Jersey Shore has been a major part of my life, and I want to do all I can to help people enjoy it as much as I do."

Contact: 609-272-7201

Twitter @PressACWeinberg

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