Frank Girardi had spent many days like that Saturday in October around a football field. It was gray and gloomy and a winter chill had descended on Lycoming County, but it didn't keep the crowd away from David Person Field.
They were huddled around the newly unveiled bronze bust of Girardi, the legendary football coach who guided the Warriors for 36 years. Former players of the winningest coach in school history, spanning all four decades of Girardi's tenure, waited patiently for their chance to congratulate Girardi. Each and every former player had a handshake or a hug and a smile to share with Girardi as they posed in front of the bust for a photo. And there wasn't a face Girardi didn't recognize.
It was just another whirlwind day during a whirlwind year for Girardi. A year which saw him recognized by his high school alma mater and the college where he spent nearly four decades impacting the lives of the young men who bought into his philosophies on football and life.
Girardi, a nominee for the Williamsport Sun-Gazette's 2012 Person of the Year, has now only been able to let the awards and honors of the past year sink in. He calls it all "a humbling experience."
The bronze bust of Girardi was just part of a fund-raising drive to put FieldTurf on David Person Field. While upgrading the football field at the Shangraw Athletic Complex, the administration at Lycoming wanted to find a way to honor Girardi.
"There had been conversations about the need for turf, but more on how to recognize coach Girardi and his legacy," said Glenn Smith, who played quarterback for Girardi and is the college's former major gift officer. He since has left the school for another job. "Part of the conversation we had was, what was going to help cement his legacy and what he meant to Lycoming football and the community?"
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Today the Sun-Gazette begins its second annual Person of the Year series. Each day will shine a spotlight on each of six finalists. On Monday the Sun-Gazette will name its 2012 Person of the Year.)
The dedication for the bust came just two weeks after Girardi was honored as the first recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award handed out by Williamsport Area High School, Girardi's alma mater. It was an award Girardi was surprised to receive because of the many distinguished alumni to come from the school.
"It surprised me that my name came up. There's some great, great people and alums who graduate from Williamsport," Girardi said. "To get that first one, it was a humbling experience for me. It's just been that kind of a year. It's just amazing the way things are."
Girardi's career came full circle on that October afternoon as he reminisced with friends. The people waiting to shake his hand or offer congratulations were products of the family atmosphere created by Girardi. They were sold on a program that put as much emphasis on being a team and caring for one another as it did on winning.
It's a culture Girardi carried from generation to generation of player. It was a culture that helped pave the way for the moments that ultimately saw him honored by both Williamsport and Lycoming County.
And it's a family culture, which at least indirectly, has transferred to the tenure of Lycoming head coach Mike Clark. It's not something he looks to facilitate, but he knows it's something that's unique to Lycoming.
"I think what we have is different. What we have is really hard to match," said Clark, who was an offensive lineman for Girardi in the late 1980s and early 90s. "We absolutely sell the uniqueness of the program. It is very much like a family."
Girardi's coaching achievements extend far beyond just the 257 wins that put him 17th on the NCAA's all-time list ahead of coaches such as Lou Holtz, Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes. His achievements are inscribed on the two plaques on the base of the statue just outside the visitors locker room at Person Field.
On the front side are the tangible football achievements, the numbers that forever will be linked with Girardi's name - 13 MAC championships, 11 NCAA playoff berths, two NCAA finals appearances, 12-time MAC coach of the year. But on the back plaque, those are the achievements Girardi may be more proud of. It's the list of the names of those who donated toward the turf project. It's a list of names of those people so moved by what the Lycoming football program stands for, they chose to help.
Girardi did his part in the fund-raising efforts, appearing on a video with Clark announcing the project. He traveled to Philadelphia with Clark and assistant coach Steve Wiser among others to meet some of Lycoming's alumni who appeared interested in being a part of the turf project. Because as much as the project was about giving the Warriors one of the finest facilities in the MAC, it also was about honoring the man who put Lycoming College and its football program on the map.
"Just to watch it unfold and be a part of the initial conversation, it meant so much," Smith said. "The chance to talk to some of these guys and know what coach Girardi meant to them ... showed me it was the same thing he meant to me and my family."
The outpouring of support for a project to honor Girardi was overwhelming. Enough money was raised to have the field completed in just a few months, and in time for the Warriors' 2012 football season. It was something neither Clark nor Girardi was sure would be possible.
It was clear, though, Girardi had impacted enough lives in his career to make something that seemed implausible a reality. And 2012 was about honoring the impact one man could have on an athletic program, a college, a community and the family he helped facilitate.
"It is so well-deserved," Clark said. "He absolutely deserves everything he gets."