So, many of you are wondering how in the world ESPN’s College GameDay decided to set up shop at Boston College this weekend. Certainly those in Berkeley, California feel an extra sting after the loss to Oregon knocked them out of contention for hosting every college football fan’s favorite Saturday morning show. Ditto the Miami fans who thought they were at the precipice of regaining all of their past glory in just a few short weeks this September, only the ‘Canes forgot to run their plans by the Virginia Tech Hokies.
In fact, there may be a few other campuses that could stake their claim to Fowler, Corso, Herbstreit, and Des Howard but, I assure you, there is no more rightful place for them to be this weekend than Chestnut Hill.
Some of you may know by now why ESPN has decided to bring the party to BC and the reasoning starts with a player named Mark Herzlich. As last season’s ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, the 6’4”, 240-pound Herzlich was working all spring to get ready to destroy offenses in his senior season and repeat that honor (at least) on his way to being a first-round NFL draft pick.
But, wouldn’t you know it, a little thing called life decided to step in and set up a roadblock. Mark Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, this past May and has been undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments for the past five months.
As an alumnus and long-time season-ticket holder, I have seen plenty of players come through ‘The Heights’ and Herzlich is building as good a career as any of them, including recent high-profile players Matt Ryan and B.J. Raji. As an alumnus I can also tell you that everyone refers to him as Herzy; he’s the player that everybody loves. He physically dominates opponents, he plays hard, AND he plays smart; he truly is on another level on the gridiron.
When the Jeff Jagodzinksi coaching regime ended last season in turmoil, it was Herzy’s phone call and vote of confidence for Frank Spaziani to Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo that helped cement that choice—you’ll notice Coach Spaz is the mustachioed head coach with the 3-1 record now patrolling BC’s sidelines in 2009. Not your average linebacker, he’s a leader who has made his promise to not only beat the disease he is fighting but to return to play football for the Eagles in 2010.
Herzy’s resolve has inspired BC as well as the other ACC member schools to join him in his fight against cancer. Proceeds from BC’s Beat Cancer T-shirts will be donated to the American Cancer Society in support of Ewing's Sarcoma research. Clemson presented him with a check for $5,000 two weeks ago when the Tigers hosted the Eagles. Members of the Virginia Tech scout team sold wrist bands for $1 at last week's game against Miami to benefit the cause and then announced this week that it had increased the total of its fund-raising campaign to $9,400 after they blew past their original goal of $5,094; a check will be presented to Herzlich when Boston College visits Lane Stadium on Oct. 10.
In all, more than $60,000 has been raised much of which has been donated to Uplifting Athletes, an organization dedicated to raising awareness and funds for rare diseases.
All of this brings us to the heart of the matter, when deciding why or where we think College GameDay should arrive each Saturday morning. For all the hand-wringing about strength of schedule, Harris Interactive polls, BCS-busters, and marquee games the reason many of us watch college sports is a bit bigger than that.
There is a sense of community amongst the fans and players that blow away the atmosphere at any professional sporting event you can attend. It is truly different and anyone that has been to a game on a campus can tell you that. No one would deny that the NCAA is big business but there are stories all across college sports that inspire and encourage others across the country. This story just happens to be Herzy’s, arguably the best linebacker in the nation.
I applaud ESPN for producing a theme for this week’s show based on athletes overcoming adversity and featuring Mark Herzlich’s continued fight against cancer, it is a genuine way to keep the community informed and involved in these battles that require our collective efforts. Selfishly, I am happy to have GameDay back in Chestnut Hill for the first time since 2005 to see BC battle Florida State, a budding division rivalry that has seen zero home-field wins in the four years since the Eagles joined the Seminoles in the ACC.
So, to all those outside of the Boston College community who were perplexed by the choice, miffed at your snub, or bitter about the time you wasted on your new GameDay sign I encourage you to watch this weekend. Enjoy the banter, get hyped for the games, root for Mark Herzlich in his courageous fight, and by all means donate to a good cause.