There are some times when I would love to play football again.
If I was in Notre Dame superstar Manti Te'o’s shoes before the Fighting Irish’s game against Michigan State, that cool mid-September night probably wouldn’t be one of them.
Te'o had the equivalent of the world’s worst week this past week leading up to the game in Lansing: on Tuesday, his grandmother passed away. That would be enough to send any benchwarmer, much less a Heisman hopeful, back to the locker room.
Brother, you haven’t heard the half of it.
A couple days later, Te'o’s girlfriend passed away as well after a battle with leukemia. Somehow, this linebacker picked up whatever was left of his heart and ran out onto the field. Me, I’d be back in South Bend, and I don’t think I would have stopped crying yet.
If they gave out a Heisman for heart, I’d just award the darn thing to that man right now. He was even asked if he wanted to take a day off of practice, and he said no, citing that the Irish players are his extended family and planning for the Spartans is a welcome distraction.
I can’t even begin to imagine how many pieces his heart is in. I’ve lost friends to leukemia as well, and let me tell you, it isn’t pretty. But to lose a close relative, and then have to watch as someone you love passes on as well? I don’t even think most of us could pick up a football, much less run onto a hostile football field.
But God save me, this young man did it, and did it well. Win, lose or draw, he wins Player of the Game (from me at least) just by setting foot on the field in Lansing. I’m sure that’s what his grandmother and his girlfriend would have wanted: play as hard as you can for 60 minutes, and no matter what happens, we will still love you.
And from a little corner of heaven, where they have their own Touchdown Jesus, they’re sitting up there, cheering him on and smiling.
NOTE: I don’t usually do this, but having lost friends to leukemia, I feel I have to. If you want to help get rid of this horrible, horrible disease in our lifetime, the first thing you can do is give blood. If you want to find drives in your area, call 1-800-RED-CROSS. Some leukemia patient will be forever grateful for every little bag of blood you can give.
Secondly, you can donate, walk, or volunteer to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. For more information on LLS events in your area, visit their website at lls.org or call them at 1-888-557-7177.