Beers and tears were the name of the game on Saturday night, as the undefeated Oxford Lancers paid tribute to the best (and worst) of the team’s unforgettable 2015-2016 season. The evening kicked off with a passionate speech from outgoing Head Coach Andy McKenzie, whose words rivalled those of baseball great Lou Gehrig for greatest retirement speech of all time. Touting the team’s success both on and off the field, and reminiscing about his own days on the gridiron, McKenzie vowed to remain the Lancers’ “coach for life”—an offer that each player will undoubtedly take him up on, as evidenced by the resounding standing ovation the HC received after his emotional remarks.
Moving on to the next thing, as Coach always so lovingly reminds us to do, the evening “curried” on, as players chowed down on the delicious Indian cuisine provided by the staff at Chutney’s, one of Oxford’s favorite hotspots. Presentations and player awards followed dinner, with Assistant Coach (and renowned statistician) Adam Goldstein announcing the year-long stats. The numbers spoke for themselves: 43 total touchdowns (4 of which were defensive), led to a 12 game winning streak following last season. In just 10 games, the Lancers garnered a whopping 269 points, and recorded two shut outs—the biggest and most important of which, of course, being the massive blowout against the Cambridge Pythons earlier this May. In total, Oxford’s offence gained a record 2,952 yards over the course of the season, while the formidable defence only allowed 677 yards from opponents.
At the end of the day, the prestigious MVP award went to ever-versatile kicker/wide receiver/all-around nice guy Alex Dale, who beat out team legend Jonny “Brooks” Priest, Offensive Weapon Ahmad Nasir, and starting QB Will Szymanski for the prize. Szymanski had his highly anticipated moment in the spot light, however, as he deservedly received both the Offensive MVP title and the Asshole of the Annum award (the most common reason for the latter being “just because”). Honourable mentions for Offensive MVP included Priest, Nasir, and rookie running back Connor Thompson, while dishonourable mention for Asshole of the Annum included a certain sticky-fingered former fullback who shall not be named, as well as the entirety of the Portsmouth team (though whoever designed their 6 yard end zone would unquestionably be deserving of this non-accolade as well).
Defensive MVP went to the man who could also be given an award for “Most Humble Speech.” Llew “Dragon” Davies reluctantly accepted the trophy, paying tribute to his fellow warriors on the D-line. Honourable mention went to Ben “Hitme” Shillito, Joe “LMH” Barker, and Priest—who, with so many nominations, became the Lancers’ equivalent of a pre-2016 Leonardo DiCaprio. One category Priest wasn’t qualified for, however, was Rookie of the Year. This title went to Thompson, whose Barry Sanders-esque style of play made it seem unfathomable that he had never played a football game in his life prior to coming to Oxford. Thankfully, Thompson is on the equally admirable and tortuous track toward becoming a medical doctor, so Lancer fans will be able to watch him ram his way into the end zone for years and years to come. Runners up for this award included cornerback Josh Allen, Joe “LMH” Barker, and Rob Main, AKA “Hockey Rob.”
Next up, a literal piece of hardware was presented to the Welsh Dragon, whose hard wear and tear on the field this season ultimately earned him the team’s Hammer Award, and further solidified his place in Lancers’ defensive general dragon folklore. Hitme, LMH, Hockey Rob, Priest, Matt “Lurch” English, and team president Henk Schopmans were all worthy contenders for this title.
Most Improved Player was rightfully awarded to backup-turned-first-string-assassin Josh Allen, whose misleadingly youthful appearance undoubtedly came as a shock to opponents who were unfortunate enough to be tackled by him this season. Bonus points also go to Allen for wearing a classy dinner jacket to the awards ceremony. Had there been a prize for best dressed, there is a good chance he might have come away with that one as well (although it should be mentioned that yours truly wore heels, which for some reason no other Lancer chose to do). Other notable nominations for Most Improved Player included newly elected team treasurer Sam Smith, as well as veterans Dale, Lurch, DB Tom Mattinson, and rookie Joe “Trinity” Barker.
Thankfully, Trinity didn’t come away from the night empty-handed. Perhaps sensing his impending minutes of fame, Trin mysteriously disappeared from the room (presumably to freshen up for the camera) and nearly missed his moment of glory. Upon his return, everyone’s favourite chest-catching receiver was presented with the team’s prestigious Guy Dawes award, proving that on-the-field mishaps are often far outweighed by outstanding contributions made off of it. There was no shortage of nominations for this award, with DB George Fountain, starting CB Peter Graham, Hockey Rob, Sam Smith, journeyman Panayiotis “Pan” Christoforou, and Duke University Blue Devils-turned-Lancers Billy Lemieux and Rivers Gambrell earning honourable mention.
It proved to be an extremely close race for the Veteran’s award. There is no doubt that former team president Tom “Foxy” Fox, outgoing president Henk Schopmans, incoming president Peter Graham, QB Szymanski, and perpetual nominee Priest all would have been worthy of this title. The trophy ultimately went to fourth-year Lancer and backup QB Pan, a player whose undying tenacity, perseverance, and superior knowledge of the game rivals the best of them. As he accepted this award in a very Pan-dsome suit, those in attendance got the sense that, although he may no longer be a Lancer in uniform, Pan might yet become the team’s next Tom Landry.
The final two awards were voted for on-the-spot by the Lancers themselves. The first was for Touchdown of the Year. Although there were 43 fantastic options to choose from, it was clear that the magical fake run flawlessly executed by Szymanski and RB Thompson against Canterbury was a TD for the ages. This play fooled not only the other team’s defence, but also the Lancers’ own offence, the match referees, the sideline, game videographers and photographers, and—perhaps—even Szymanski and Thompson themselves.
Last but certainly not least, the Lancers voted on the Champagne Moment of the Year. Few teams in the history of British American football have been fortunate enough to face such a blissful quandry. The Lancers’ efforts indeed brought about plenty of champagne-worthy occasions throughout the course of their gloriously undefeated season, making it somewhat difficult to narrow down one defining moment. In the end, however, the team and coaches agreed that there was nothing better than absolutely destroying Cambridge in the 2016 Varsity Bowl.
Vince Lombardi once said that “A school without football is in danger of deteriorating into a medieval study hall.” This is, of course, more true for Oxford than for any other university on the planet. Thankfully, due to the outstanding efforts of all those mentioned above—and especially Coach Andy—it is clear that American football and Oxford will go hand in hand for centuries to come.