In its purest form, it’s just a game.
Try telling that to any of the players in the SEC. Try telling coaches paid millions of dollars a year, that it’s only a game. Try telling hundreds of thousands of fans that pack the biggest stadiums in the nation that it’s only a game.
Try telling me it’s just a game.
During the 2008 season—in which the Volunteers suffered through a 5-7 season—Jonathan Crompton took the majority of the snaps. The former five-star recruit struggled infamously from the opening game at UCLA, and at times appeared to regress rather than get better.
He bared the brunt of an entire fan base as they looked for the scapegoat and more often than not found themselves pointing at him. Crompton deserved part of the blame, but he took more than his share.
He accepted the criticism, and never called out a receiver for running the wrong route.
He never questioned the coaches or hung his head. He never doubted that hard work would eventually pay off.
Faith is defined as believing when there is no proof. You simply believe, even when there may be no apparent reason to. Despite having no tangible evidence to go on, Crompton remained confident. He continued to have faith.
There is the old adage that quarterbacks take too much of the credit when their teams win, and too much of the blame when their teams lose.
Sometimes though, things can go too far.
There wasn’t a whole lot of winning last year, but there was plenty of losing. In receiving most of the blame for the losing, Crompton was also receiving something else.
On numerous occasions, Crompton received death threats via email.
We aren’t talking about hate mail. We are talking about death threats.
It takes a special kind of degenerate to hide behind an anonymous email and threaten the life of a kid because their team was losing.
What’s especially disparaging is that Crompton never stopped trying. It certainly wasn’t for lack of effort that he and the team were struggling, and in what was to be some of the darkest times for the program, he continued to want the ball.
All the while he never let anyone know, including his parents, of the threats. Week after week, straw was added to the camel’s back, but to the dismay of his detractors, his back never broke.
Getting back up every single time he was knocked down, he became more of a man than the idiots who hit the send button on those classless emails ever will be.
He simply had faith when others looked for proof.
Now Crompton will not walk away from Tennessee with a National Championship, or an SEC Title. He will still struggle to have a winning season, and may be headed for more heart aches before it’s all over.
But for at least one special fall Saturday, when the Georgia Bulldogs knocked him down, he got back up off the ground and stayed up.
If for only one three-hour period of his trying college career, he stood like a tower and owned the moment in a game that seemed to open up like a damn bursting from pressure.
He led the Volunteers on drive after drive, and for once rocked the Neyland Stadium crowd against a rival that many considered national contenders a short year ago.
He stood where so many great Tennessee quarterbacks had stood before and left a positive imprint on a program’s history steeped in tradition.
I certainly hope with all he has been through this year, his email would be filled this week with comments he would be proud to share with his parents.
After all it is just a game.
Crompton’s resilience however, is a life lesson.