By Dave Morrison
For those inside the arena, those men on the sidelines in headphones, it is a part of the game they don’t want to see. Players seriously injured. Whether it’s a teammate or opponent, the worst fear in the world is when a player is down and not getting up.
Ironically, in the same week that the NFL made it a mandate to crack down on helmet-to-helmet blows, Rutgers’ Eric LeGrand was seriously injured making a special teams tackle against Army last week.
LeGrand had surgery earlier in the week but remains paralyzed from the neck down.
West Virginia coach Bill Stewart spoke about the injury at his press conference Tuesday.
“My heart really goes out to Eric LeGrand and the entire Rutgers family,” Stewart said. “That’s a tough situation for Eric and the LeGrand family, the Rutgers family and college football in general. It’s a sad occasion when we have severe injuries. We’re hoping and praying.
“We talked about it with the guys on Sunday.
“I received a call Saturday night and my heart has been thinking about him ever since. I believe he’s one of the captains as an underclassman. We’re thinking about him, and we sure wish him the best. We wish Eric, his family and the entire Rutgers program the best.”
It’s the fear of every parent whose son suits up on a game day or night.
By nature, players don’t consider injuries while on the field. The old saying goes, “If you think you’re going to get hurt, you’re probably going to get hurt.”
Years ago, you never heard much about ACL or MCL injuries. Head injuries, concussions, were not looked upon as serious. It was simply a matter of shaking out the cobwebs.
And yes, players are taught to keep their heads up, to wrap up and run through players around the chest area. Nobody is taught to lead with the head.
Football has advanced, as has science and medicine.
It’s a game played by big men, running at break-neck speed, wearing more armor than a medieval knight.
Bigger, stronger and faster plus better equipment equals a recipe for disaster in a game that is getting more violent. But certainly, LeGrand’s injury is not the norm.
“I told (the team Sunday) how blessed they were to play such a wonderful game and how we should be hurting for the Rutgers family,” Stewart said. “It happened at UConn last year with a similar thing (when Jasper Howard was stabbed to death at a post-game party). There are many bumps in the road. You have to learn from these kinds of things to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Invariably, every year there seems to be this kind of situation. You have to be able to get up and move on. That’s our hope and our prayer.”
For any coach, it hits home, as it did with Stewart. And with his son Blaine now playing football, it’s personal, too.
“When you have masses hitting, things happen,” Stewart said. “I pray before every game that there are no serious injuries. There will always be injuries, but I never want serious injuries for anyone. When I watch my son play, that’s the first thing I do. I don’t care if he makes the tackle or if he makes a catch, I just don’t want him to get hurt.”
It’s a tough situation, where there is no easy answer. Officials are calling the helmet-to-helmet hit with more frequency. WVU was flagged for two such hits against UNLV.
“People are getting so large, so fast, so physical, and the key word here is explosive,” Stewart said. “Defensively, they’re trying to take the helmet out of the game because they’re watching helmet-to-helmet and shoulder-to-helmet contact. They’re trying to take that out. Our officials are doing a great job. We got caught a couple of times in one game, as you’ll remember. I get after the youngsters because we don’t teach that here.”
It’s not taught.
But it is glorified. The NFL has sanctioned videos of vicious hits. Video games feature the violence of the sport. ESPN used to have a “You got Jacked Up” segment on Monday Night Countdown. And players are often referred to as warriors or gladiators.
Truth is, it’s a wonder it doesn’t happen more often with much more serious results.
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