Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Where Eagles Soar

Thursday night, the boys from State U. will begin the 2010 campaign on the banks of the Rar-i-tan against the juggernaut that is not Norfolk State. Having gotten their collective rear ends kicked on national TV on back-to-back Labor Days, this year RU moved its season opener up three days on the calendar and several dozen notches down on the degree of difficulty dial. Here is to hoping that the strategy is a good one and not simply because I root, root, root for the home team. The Missus and I begin our 4th season as RU Football season ticket holders. Thursday night - as I understand it - Suzanne (who has a guy-like appreciation for football) is taking the short trip over to Rutgers Stadium to watch the game. If they lose with her in the stands, I may not hear the end of it until Thanksgiving.

Saturday afternoon, the boys from my beloved Alma mater will begin their season as we tend to do - at a neutral field against our in-state rivals from Colorado State. I hope like Hell that living in Fort Collins has not converted Rob into a CSU fan (although if memory serves when I saw his truck in May he had a CU sticker affixed to rear window). I hope even more fervently that this year - in what would represent a dramatic change of pace from every year to date in the Dan Hawkins Era - that the Buffs from Boulder give him and me and the rest of us who root hard for Ralphie's boys something to actually cheer about. If you think that Suzanne reacts badly to poor play from a college football team she roots hard for, then you have never spent any quality time in the vicinity of my sister Jill (CU Class of '87). Sweet God almighty, it is not pretty. Trust me.

I will spend my autumn rooting hard for Colorado and for Rutgers as I always do although I must admit that at this stage of the game - as an alumni removed from the campus in Boulder by more than twenty years and approximately 1700 miles - I have as much chance of naming the original members of Menudo or Bananarama as I do of naming one-half dozen kids who presently are on the Buffs' roster. I root for the uniform and for the university that it represents. The names to me on the back of the jersey are not particularly important. It is the one on the front that matters.

This season though the kid for whom I shall be rooting the hardest in all of college football will be matriculating up and down the field neither in Boulder nor in Piscataway. He plays his home games in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

In the 2008 college football season, there were few players on the defensive side of the ball who wrought as much havoc on the opposition as did Mark Herzlich of Boston College. Among the honors he won was ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Unfortunately for Herzlich, a damned unfunny thing happened on the way to him defending his status as a senior in 2009. He never got on the field. In the spring of Aught-Nine Herzlich was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer called Ewing's Sarcoma. The fact that it is a form of bone cancer that is apparently rather rare - but paradoxically not rare enough for those attacked by it - was likely of little solace to Herzlich or his family.

Herzlich will be twenty-three years old tomorrow. This time fifteen months ago, there likely was at least one or two times when neither he nor his family knew for certain whether he would be here to celebrate the occasion. Or whether he would be well enough to take the field with his teammates three days later when BC opens its '10 schedule against Weber State (and do not check the map Governor Palin for the State of Weber -it is actually in Utah and you probably cannot see it from your porch either). He is quite an amazing young man. Seventy-two hours or thereabouts after he blows the candles out in celebration of his twenty-third trip around the sun, he will lead his teammates out of the tunnel to start his slightly delayed but much anticipated senior season.

The story of Mark Herzlich has been written and told in a countless number of places and spaces. And it should be. If he did not exist, I think Central Casting would have had to invent him. I care not what team you root for in college football or whether you do not even follow the sport. It is impossible not to cheer for this young man. Cancer invades too many families to count in America and all around the world. It appears that against seemingly impossible odds, Mark Herzlich has kicked it hard in the face and in doing so has knocked it on its ass.

Well done #94. More than that, well-earned. It takes a hell of a lot to not lose hope and to remain brave in the face of ever-lengthening odds. As Ambrose Redmoon wrote, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."

It is indeed.


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