In his double pick-of-the-day article, Thomas Leemon did a wonderful job of pointing out that sports was one of the things that helped our nation return to normalcy after the unthinkable happened on September 11, 2001.
If you haven’t read his article, you should.
The sight of the burning Twin Towers, the people running down the streets of New York City, the burning Pentagon, and the wreckage in that Pennsylvania field will forever be etched in our minds.
In many ways, America has never been the same.
The feeling that our nation was a safe haven disappeared, to some degree, in the smoldering ashes of Ground Zero. We quickly became familiar with Code Red. Airport security became more intense and less convenient, and our borders have become a greater concern for many Americans.
Yet some of the changes go beyond passports and baggage checks.
You can tell a great deal about a people by those they choose to honor, and 9/11 changed the way we defined what is truly honorable. We learned something that day. We learned who our real heroes were.
In a nation that had been so enamored with celebrities and superstars, we found our heroes not on the red carpet of high society, but on the asphalt and concrete of everyday life.
In our greatest hour of tragedy, it was the “Grunt” who came to our rescue.
It was the blue-collar guy—the policeman, the fireman, the city worker, and those of the EMS. It was the “Everyday Joe” who happened to be in the wrong place at the right time, who waded into the ash and rubble and snatched life from the jaws of death.
It was fitting that the celebrities and politicians and superstars lost center stage in the hearts of this wounded nation, and the grunts stood head and shoulders above us all. They still do.
I think that is one of the things that attracts me so much to college football. While football is a game, and the results are seen on a scoreboard rather than in an obituary column, there are some reflections of real life that are, in my opinion, peculiar to the college game.
It is a stage where the grunts belong.
Yes, we have our Tim Tebows, our Knowshon Morenos, and our Chase Daniels, but the blue-chip athlete is going nowhere without the blue-collar boys. They are the “no-names” that make up the majority of every college team in America, and a part of that very large percentage of college football players who will never turn pro.
They are the grunts of college football: the “boy from back home” that gets to feel the rush of emotion as he runs onto the field showered by the cheers of a stadium full of people who have come to watch him play.
Who is it that fills those stadiums Saturday after Saturday? They are more than just faceless people we call “fans.” They are tens of thousands of moms and dads and brothers and sisters and neighbors and friends—all who have come to root for the team, and especially for their favorite grunt.
This is the guy whose name may never be mentioned on ESPN, and if, by some wild chance, he makes a highlight clip on a postgame show, the family cell phones will be ringing all the way home from friends calling to congratulate.
He will never benefit from jersey sales or be hounded for his autograph, and if he ever goes to Canton, he will have to buy a ticket. He will never hire an agent, and he won’t be waiting on a phone call on draft day.
The blue-chip stars will hopefully go on to a fat paycheck and the bright stage of the NFL. The grunt will fade back into the real world and get a job. His office will become a shrine to the alma mater that he will always feel privileged to have played for.
Where will his kids go to college? Are you kidding? To him, there is only one college!
He won’t mind answering questions down at the barbershop about what it was like to play with the guy who has become a star in the big leagues. He has a quiet pride that he contributed, and until the day that he dies, he will carry with him the memories of every Saturday he put on the pads—and the satisfaction that he brought his lunch pail with him.
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