Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Football in the South: When We All Become One Team

Here in the South, we take our college football very seriously.  Actually, that’s an understatement.  Some compare it to a religion.  We get all fired up about our teams, posting on Facebook and trash-talking at the water cooler.  “Love thy neighbor” and Southern Hospitality suddenly take on a diminished meaning when conversing with a fan of the week’s opponent.

But when a player goes down on the field and doesn’t get back up right away, everyone tends to come together.  All that other stuff is put aside for the time being.

On Saturday, South Carolina Gamecock #21 Marcus Lattimore took a nasty hit from one Tennessee Volunteer.  The video has been played everywhere . . . too many times.  Watching that orange Vol helmet knock Marcus’ leg in a direction which it ought not to go is more than lots of folks can bear.  It’s more than I can bear. 

According to Coach Steve Spurrier, Marcus Lattimore is probably the most popular player the Gamecocks have ever had.  This young man is someone you have to love, unless you are jealous of him.  Here is his bio.  He’s squeaky clean – no drugs, no criminal record, no scuffles, no pregnant girlfriend . . . nothing.  He loves God, and he loves his mama.  Holding the USC records for touchdowns and rushing touchdowns, he was headed for the NFL next year . . . before this past Saturday.  He runs like the wind, and the only way to stop him is to injure him.  Even then, sometimes he keeps going.  But not on Saturday.

When he went down, you could see the look on Marcus’ face.  He was probably thinking what everyone else was thinking.  The end of an NFL career before it even begins? 

Trainers rushed to his side, teammates flooded the field to stand near him.  And . . . many of the Tennessee players did the same.  What a show of class and compassion by those Vols who joined their opponents on the field.  Color of jerseys and helmets was disregarded for that moment in time.  Everyone watching became one team.  One team was hoping, praying for the best for this one young man.  One team was watching the anguish on his face, feeling the same anguish he felt.

For every one of the million tears that flowed in that stadium, there were a million more in front of tv sets.  Shoot, I opened up the newspaper on Sunday morning, and my eyes started leaking again.  But here’s the thing:  people weren’t just weeping.  They were praying.  Tens of thousands of people, for a conservative estimate, were praying.  It wasn’t just South Carolina fans, either.  Tennessee fans, Georgia fans, Florida fans, and – yes! – even Clemson fans.  Now that right there just warms my heart.

So what started out as reports of two broken bones and four torn ligaments had become, by Sunday night, a hyperextended knee and a few injured ligaments.  The news arrived with a very positive-sounding statement from Coach Spurrier that Lattimore would be able to play football again.  Is it any wonder, considering the number of people who were praying?  I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear an even better report later this week.  Maybe it isn’t even as bad as the report on Sunday said it was.  Lattimore told the Ol’ Ball Coach that he would be back.  I know in my heart that he’s right, and it may be sooner than people think.  Miracles happen every day for people who believe God is able.  This exceptional young man has his head and heart in the right place.
#21 will run again.



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