Come tomorrow the people of Haiti most likely won’t even know the Super Bowl has been played. The devastation will still seem too great to overcome, and many of the children who’s parents could barely provide for them already, will wake up parentless and unable to find an orphanage that isn’t already full or stripped of all of it’s resources.
Two young men are playing in this game tonight that represent the people and the hope they all so desperately need. Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon, the son of Haitian immigrants and Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma both spent time growing up in south Florida’s “little Haiti”. More importantly both of their extended families and their heritages remain on the island left devastated by the level seven earthquake that struck on January 12th.
It’s two stories that took two vastly different routes to get to the same place at the same time. One starred on a powerhouse Division I football team, the other had a hard time getting into a Division III school, but both have made it to ultimate goal of every football player.
Tonight on football’s biggest stage Pierre Garcon and Jonathan Vilma are representing the Haitian people not to give them hope, but to give us the incentive to provide hope for their families and countrymen.
As we watch two Haitian men fight with their teams to win victory on the football field lets take a look at their stories, and be reminded of those who are fighting for their lives on the island of Haiti.
Vilma, the son of Haitian immigrants who came to the United States during the 1970’s, grew up in Coral Gables, Florida where he was a dominant high school football star.
Vilma finished high school with scholarship offers to five Division I schools including the University of Miami, Florida State, Florida, Pittsburgh and Iowa. He chose Miami, and embarked on a college career that would see him to two Butkis Award nominations, three academic all conference honors and a national championship.
He would go on to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Miami’s School of Business Administration.
Vilma was drafted by the New York Jets with the 12th pick in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft.
The 2004 season was a coming out party for the Haitian linebacker. He would go on to record 108 tackles, two sacks, and three interceptions (returned one for a TD) on his way to earning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
There was no sophomore slump for Vilma. He followed up his outstanding rookie season by leading the NFL in tackles with 173. He also forced four fumbles, recovered a fumble and had 0.5 sacks and an interception. Vilma was rewarded for his outstanding play with an invitation to the Pro Bowl replacing Zach Thomas as the starting middle linebacker.
The 2007 season would be the toughest season of his career. Vilma was placed on Inured Reserve after suffering a season ending injury during week seven against the Cincinnati Bengals.
At season’s end former Jets head coach Eric Mangini inexplicably stated that Vilma wouldn’t fit into his defensive scheme and decided to trade him to the New Orleans Saints for a fourth round draft pick and a conditional pick in 2009.
The Saints certainly got the better end of the deal. Vilma continued his dominant ways in 2008 pegging 132 tackles and one sack.
In the off-season the Saints signed Vilma to a new five year, 34 million dollar contract, and he rewarded the franchise with a 110 tackle, three interception season as the defensive captain for the NFC champions.
Vilma plans on leaving for Haiti shortly after Super Bowl XLIV, where he intends on coordinating relief efforts consisting of home building and recovery.
Pierre Garcon’s parents emigrated from Haiti with their three daughters shortly before he was born.
Unlike the popular adage Greenacres isn’t the place for everyone, but Pierre Garcon faired pretty well even after not playing football until his junior year of high school. During his time at John I. Leonard High School Garcon played wide receiver and returned punts and kicks.
Garcon made a good showing with the raw talent he possessed, and garnered some attention from smaller Division I schools like Syracuse, but most of them shied away once they found out what his grades were like.
Garcon decided to commit to Norwich University in Vermont. He played one full season at Norwich with 44 receptions for 1,017 yards and 13 touchdowns.
He decided he wanted to play for a more football-oriented school and decided to transfer to Division III Mount Union. Over the course of the next three seasons Garcon set a school record with 202 receptions, 47 touchdowns and now ranks second in school history with 3.363 yards. He did all of this while leading the Raiders to two National Titles.
Most Division III players do not get much attention from the professional level scouts, but Garcon’s talent was undeniable, getting him invited to the NFL combine. Garcon put on an incredible show at the combine, and the Colts Drafted him in the sixth round of the 2008 Draft.
Teams love to get a first round talent in the late rounds of the draft, and that is exactly what the Colts got in Garcon. He spent the 2008 season as a backup to Reggie Wayne before an injury to Anthony Gonzalez made a way for Garcon to crack the starting lineup in 2009.
He quickly entrenched himself as a deep threat in Peyton Manning’s arsenal of weapons in Indianapolis, making a major impact in picking up the slack for the departed Marvin Harrison and the injured Anthony Gonzalez.
Garcon finished the season with 47 receptions for 765 yards and four touchdowns in his first full season of work.
Perhaps his biggest contribution has been his outspoken willingness to help his extended family and countrymen in Haiti. The majority of his relatives live less than 10 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake the ravaged the impoverished island.
At the age of 23, Garcon has been a picture of maturity in representing his nation to the people of the US and the world. His interviews and public service announcements have raised not only funds, but also the awareness that it will take to see the relief efforts the nation of Haiti truly needs.
Both Vilma and Garcon have made a major impact for their teams this season and Garcon’s touchdown was the first touchdown of Super Bowl, but their efforts for their country are making a far bigger impact on a nation of people ravaged by the effects of mother nature and terrible poverty.
It is because of what they are showing us that gives hope to Haiti.