A month after winning the Super Bowl, Haloti Ngata is returning to Northwest Montana for one of his favorite offseason fundraisers, the Whitefish Winter Classic.
The Baltimore Ravens’ All Pro defensive lineman has made it a tradition to attend the local event with his family and other current and former NFL players.
“It’s one of the events I plan on doing annually,” Ngata told the Beacon last week. “It’s great to help the kids and see how important it is to their families.”
The Winter Classic is the driving force behind For the Children, a nonprofit organization founded by former Miami Dolphins standout Doug Betters that helps local families with kids who need medical care outside the valley. The organization contributes more than $50,000 a year to families for travel, food, lodging and other related needs.
“It’s just an amazing charity event,” Ngata said. “I always make sure Doug tells me the dates so I know.”
This year’s 28th annual Winter Classic is March 7-10, with more than 15 celebrity guests on board for several functions across town. The list of attendees includes Colt Anderson, a Philadelphia Eagles safety and Butte native, Shann Shillinger, an Atlanta Falcons safety and Baker native, and Dan Carpenter, a Dolphins kicker and Helena native.
The weekend will include two autograph sessions and the popular PLAY 60 Challenge at Central School in Whitefish on Friday, where kids can enjoy activities alongside the professional athletes. A gala dinner is Saturday night at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake and will feature live and silent auctions with sports memorabilia, including a Ray Lewis jersey donated by Ngata, and other impressive items.
Ngata is attending this week’s Winter Classic for the sixth year in a row. But this time he arrives with the distinct honor of being a Super Bowl champion.
The 6-foot-4, 330-pound Pro Bowler has been an anchor on the Ravens’ defensive line since being drafted in the first round out of the University of Oregon in 2006. Ngata played a key role on Baltimore’s highly touted defense last season and compiled five sacks and 53 tackles. The Ravens rallied late in the year and put together a remarkable postseason run that concluded with a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
“For any football player that’s the dream,” Ngata said. “I can’t really explain all the feelings I have. It was an amazing season that we had. I’m just happy that it ended that way.”
Ngata can look back and say he was involved in a Super Bowl filled with memorable storylines. There was the sibling rivalry matchup between the two head coaches and brothers Jim and John Harbaugh. There was the game itself, which featured a 30-minute power outage and came down to the final plays.
“Even though you don’t want that to happen, that made the game more exciting. It probably made it one of the best ever played,” Ngata said. “It was a game that went down to the wire.”
There was also a sizeable personality at the center of the action. Earlier in the season the Ravens’ boisterous leader, Ray Lewis, announced he was retiring at the end of the year. The All Pro linebacker had played his entire 17-year career in Baltimore.
Ngata cherished the opportunity to play with someone like Lewis, whom he looked up to when he was growing up in Salt Lake City.
“He’s an amazing guy with a lot of wisdom and a great leader on and off the field,” Ngata said. “He has that fire and passion that comes out. He’s the same person off the field but he’s passionate about his family and about his God and you can see it. It’s great to be around somebody like that.”
Fresh off the Super Bowl, Ngata said he looked forward to returning to the Flathead Valley and squeezing in a few fun activities with his family, like snowboarding at Whitefish Mountain Resort. In past years he’s even tried dogsledding and pottery.
“We try to find new things that we do every year,” he said.
Glacier National Park remains near the top of the list, but that might require another visit.
“We’ve always wanted to come out in the summer. We always hear how beautiful it is out there,” he said. “We definitely are going to do it some time.”
In the meantime, he’s happy to have his hands full helping carry on the tradition of the Winter Classic.
“You get to meet a lot of wonderful people and great kids,” he said. “It’s just great to be around and something I want to be a part of. I love to be around it.”
For more information about the Whitefish Winter Classic, visit www.whitefishwinterclassic.org.
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