The sad reality of the sports world in 2012 is that too often, the good stories outweigh the bad. That for every one about a player, athlete or coach overcoming adversity, there are 10 thrown at us that have to do with arrests, misconduct or some kind of other inappropriate behavior.
Thankfully, we can focus on the former today, and skip the latter altogether, thanks to one of the most heartwarming stories that we’ve seen come of ages. It technically happened on the NFL level, but because it involved a recently departed college coach and athlete, it seems perfectly appropriate (at least to this writer) to share it here.
The news: Former Rutgers defensive tackle signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers today, reuniting him (for a short time) with his former college head coach Greg Schiano. Schiano accepted the Tampa Bay head coaching job earlier this spring.
Now, if you’re not sure why LeGrand’s signing is such a big deal, let’s give a little background.
LeGrand became a household name at Rutgers in early 2010 for an unfortunate reason, when a freak on-the-field accident left him unable to move his lower body, and forced him off the field on a stretcher. From there, the worst that could’ve been presumed became reality, when it was announced by doctors that LeGrand would be a quadriplegic the rest of his life, unable to walk on his own, and would need a ventilator to help him breathe. The news quite literally broke the collective hearts of the college football world.
Only as we’ve gotten to know through the years, the worst thing you can do is tell Eric LeGrand what he can and can’t do. Within five weeks LeGrand was breathing on his own, and eventually became able to walk again with the assistance of a metal frame. Eventually it allowed him to lead his Rutgers teammates onto the field last fall, in what was one of the truly touching moments in recent college football memory.
Well, we got a new layer to that truly touching moment this morning, with Schiano’s announcement that he’d signed LeGrand.
In a press release, Schiano said:
“Leading up to the draft, I couldn’t help but think that this should’ve been Eric’s draft class,” said Coach Schiano. “This small gesture is the least we could do to recognize his character, spirit, and perseverance. The way Eric lives his life epitomizes what we are looking for in Buccaneer Men.”
And that to me, is where the story is: We already knew plenty about the character of Eric LeGrand. Today, we learned a lot about the character of Greg Schiano too.
The truth is, I’ve been watching college football for many years, and never really had a strong opinion on Schiano. I neither loved him nor hated him, but always did respect him for what he was able to accomplish at Rutgers. Granted, as a pure coach he was probably a bit overrated by the end (and to be blunt, I still can’t see what Tampa saw in him to make him their head coach), but given where he took the program from it was no small deal.
Still, we had never seen Schiano handle a moment quite this eloquently. Yes, he made all the right gestures and said all the right things following the LeGrand injury, but still, it wasn’t anything quite like this either.
After all, this is the NFL, the big boys, the professionals, where you leave the mushy, rah-rah stuff at the door, put your nose in your playbook and get to work. It’s a league that has been ruled by a heartless tactician named Bill Belichick for years, and where the details of the New Orleans Saints bounty situation shook us all for weeks on end. The one thing it isn’t, is a place where you do things because they’re a feel good story.
Only that’s exactly what Greg Schiano did today, and he needs to be commended for it.
We can only hope that sports have more stories like these going forward.
For all his opinion, insights and more on college football, follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.