Tuesday, April 9, 2013

SHINING MOMENTS FOR COLLEGE SPORTS


After the ugliness of the Rutgers scandal, there really wasn't much to feel good about when it
came to college sports. Most of us had been worn out already from the Sandusky mess at Penn
State and  pick-a-university from across the country that lost their moral compass as they
chased the almighty dollar.

All of it felt dirty. Dirty and just plain nasty.

Thankfully, two shining moments over the past three days, have restored our faith in what
college athletics should be all about.

On Saturday, the Nebraska football team held its annual spring game, which attracted a
whopping 60,000 fans. They love their football in Lincoln, but on this sun-splashed afternoon,
the game itself, did not matter.


Facing a 4th-and-one, the Red team, coached by Bo Pellini, called timeout and sent in a special player. 7-year old Jack Hoffman, who had been diagnosed with pediatric brain cancer in 2011,
came trotting out in full uniform. Wearing number 22, which is that of his favorite player,
Rex Buckhead, .Hoffman took a handoff from Huskers quarterback, Taylor Martinez, then
embarked on one of the greatest and most memorable runs in NCAA history.

Hoffman followed a wall of blockers then ran to daylight. Watching him sprint 69-yards to the
end zone brought a tear and goose bumps to even the most hardened observer. In a life that has
recently been interrupted by hospital visits, painful treatments, and frightening thoughts, this was
a moment for Hoffman that made all of that go away. He was running with unbridled joy as he
neared the end zone, the kind you see on the face of nearly every kid that's doing something they
truly love. No kid should have to go through what Hoffman does, as he battles brain cancer.


When Hoffman crossed the goal-line, he was mobbed by nearly 100 players and coaches
who were outfitted in red and white. They hoisted Hoffman on their shoulders, giving him
the greatest shining moment in his young life. It was so right, so good, and so special,  the
photograph of it should be plastered in the annals of Nebraska Huskers football.

It should be a reminder to every player, coach, and administrator, just what an impact they can
have on young people, especially when they do the right thing. This was the right thing and should
be put in the NCAA handbook for everyone to read and be a reminder of what the college
experience should be all about.

A week ago, Kevin Ware suffered arguably, the most gruesome and horrific injury in college
or professional sports history. The Louisville guard endured a compound fracture of his lower
leg that turned stomachs and shocked the nationally televised audience. Former Washington
Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann had his leg snapped in two by Lawrence Taylor in 1986,
but the impact of it all wasn't felt quite like that of Ware's injury. Theismann was wearing two
pairs of high-socks that shielded everybody from the gruesomeness of it all.

Ware's leg was dangling for everyone to see. His shin bone was sticking out and nobody seemed
to be in much of a hurry to attended to him because they were too shocked by what they were
seeing.


Ware's season was over. There were doubts about him ever playing basketball again. In the
midst of something great, Ware had to watch the rest of the tournament from the sidelines.
Louisville rallied around Ware and were inspired to win the national championship in his
hometown of Atlanta. When the nets were cut down, there was Kevin Ware snipping the final
piece of nylon with the entire world watching. His mega-watt smile lit up the Atlanta night,
making all the pain he suffered from that terrible injury, suddenly go away.


This was Ware's shining moment. He may never experience another one like it in his lifetime.
Hoffman may not, either. The 7-year old boy is about to go through 60 straight weeks of
chemotherapy treatments, something nobody, much less a child, should ever have to go through.

But Hoffman and Ware helped cleanse a college sports world, at least temporarily, that has lost
sight of what's really important as they chase the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

These moments were pure and special. I wish they could be bottled and released every time
another scandal pollutes the air once again.

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