By STEVE BROWNLEE
For The Daily News
MARQUETTE - An assemblage of mostly sports names raised the profile for the annual Upper Peninsula Celebrity Golf Classic held at the Marquette Golf Club on Thursday.
Adelle Whitefoot/Mining Journal Photo
Steve Mariucci, left, and Tom Izzo, right, dry off from the rain and chat in the clubhouse during the Mariucci U.P. Celebrity Golf Classic Thursday at Greywalls Golf Course in Marquette.
Despite some afternoon rain, every team that included either a local or national celebrity got in at least nine holes on the club's two 18-hole layouts, the Heritage and Greywalls courses.
The NFL was assured to have good representation at this outing through the efforts of Thursday's host, Iron Mountain native Steve Mariucci, an NFL Network analyst who coached with the Lions, Packers and San Francisco 49ers, not to mention his days quarterbacking Northern Michigan University to a national championship in 1975.
"We're raising more and more money each year," he said about the third edition of this outing. "I'm so impressed that there are so many people willing to travel across the country to support Beacon House."
The Beacon House in Marquette is a converted hotel that has been a hospitality house for more than a decade to accommodate visiting medical patients and their family and caregivers.
"It's a really, really good cause," said former Detroit Lions receiver Rob Rubick, a native of Newberry who now lives in the Detroit area and is the main expert analyst for Fox Sports Detroit's high school football coverage.
"You get asked to do a lot of golf outings, and I didn't know about Beacon House when I first was invited here. But I've learned about it, and it really is worthy of this kind of support."
Super Bowl XXXI champion George Koonce of the Green Bay Packers echoed those sentiments.
"This is my first time ever in Marquette, Mich., but I understand that Beacon House is such a great cause," said the ex-NFL linebacker with two other teams.
"I'm happy if my appearance can help raise funds and raise awareness for Beacon House."
He said the late Reggie White was the key to the Packers' success that culminated in its Super Bowl victory in 1997.
"Reggie held this team together, then he turned over the reins to Brett (Favre) in 1996," Koonce said about the massively talented defensive lineman who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
"The quarterback position is such a high-pressure, high-profile position in the National Football League."
In his post-NFL days, Koonce has worked at several universities and received his Ph.D. degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee and works in fund-raising for the university. He is interested in teaching law and has co-authored a book scheduled for release in 2014.
Coming along on the course right after Koonce was Detroit great Lem Barney, a 1992 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame who played cornerback for the Lions from 1967-77.
Barney also has a sweet golf swing and thinks the Lions aren't far from being contenders in the NFC North Division.
"That's got to be the most competitive division in the NFL, but I'm looking for the Lions to add a running back to balance their offense," said Barney, 67, who has been in the ministry for 39 years.
"When the defense knows the pass is always coming, your quarterback faces a lot of blitzes."
He laughed when asked if he could cover the Lions' Calvin Johnson, one of the best, if not the best receiver in the NFL.
"I covered other guys who were about his size," said the 6-foot Barney, mentioning names like Harold Carmichael and Otis Taylor, "but not ones that also had the speed that he does."
Both Koonce and Barney said they still attend about half of their former team's home games each season.
Major League baseball was also represented with former Detroit pitcher John Hiller, who has lived in Iron Mountain for more than two decades, and ex-Chicago Cub Kevin Tapani, an Escanaba native who lives in the Minneapolis area.
"The bullpen has been struggling a little bit," he said about the current Tigers. "The rest of the team fits together so well. Hopefully, they'll bring that young guy up from Toledo (Bruce Rondon) and give him a shot.
"You have guys like Miguel Cabrera - he's like the Michael Jordan of baseball."
Hiller, still going strong at age 70, incredibly suffered a heart attack at age 27 and came back stronger than ever as one of the baseball's first closers when that speciality was in its infancy.
Tapani, 49, said he was fortunate in his path to majors coming out of the U.P., starting with his attendance at Central Michigan University.
"When I went to college, I wasn't even going to play baseball. Then I decided to walk on to Central's team. I was just in the right spot at the right time.
"Part of it was that I wasn't physically burned out at a young age from playing so much baseball like a lot of other guys. I played whatever sport was in season when I was growing up."