Originally published Monday, October 26, 2009
The main page of my Blog lists college football as one of my passions, and anyone who has read much of my Blog knows that I love college football as much as I love knitting and often combine the two. I’ve spent many a Saturday parked in my big-ass chair knitting and watching college teams battle each other.
Last Saturday was no different except…
A couple of weeks ago, a football player from the University of Connecticut, Jasper “Jazz” Howard, who wore number 6 and played cornerback, was stabbed to death outside the UConn student union while attending a school dance. Howard had left the deprivation of the mean streets of Miami’s Little Haiti for the beautiful and safe campus in Storrs. But sadly, college campuses aren’t immune from the ills of our society, and that includes violence.
It goes without saying that it is a tragedy for a young and promising life to be snuffed out so senselessly. Howard’s death hit college football fans hard, and we Big East Conference fans are simply devastated by the loss of one of our own.
This past Saturday, the UConn Huskies football team sucked it up and traveled to Morgantown to face my Mountaineers on the field of play. How these young men would perform after losing a beloved teammate so tragically was a big question. The answer came loud and clear on Saturday. They played hard and extremely well, with inspiration and passion. I cannot even begin to express the admiration I have for the UConn players and coaches for the way they have handled this difficult situation with courage and dignity, and for the way they played the game.
I love my native West Virginia and the friendly, generous, compassionate, and kind people who live there. And I have always been proud to be a Mountaineer. WVU is a great university. But I have never felt prouder to be a Mountaineer than I did last Saturday. I was watching the game on television and, let me tell you, I went through my fair share of Kleenex. When the UConn team took the field, they ran past a large banner honoring Jazz that had been signed by thousands of WVU students,
and they were loudly cheered not only by the UConn fans in attendance, but also by the Mountaineer faithful. I could hardly believe my ears. The Mountaineer fans were actually cheering for the opposing team! My heart swelled with pride.
Throughout the stands there were both Connecticut and West Virginia fans holding up signs and wearing number 6 in tribute to Jasper Howard. Before the game, the two teams met on the field and there was a moment of silence to remember Jazz. You could have heard a pin drop, it was that quiet. Then the players and coaches shook hands and some embraced each other. And the game began.
The game was close and hard-fought. Both teams played well, and toward the end of the fourth quarter, it looked like UConn would have a storybook ending to the day and win the game. But number 7 of the Mountaineers, Noel Devine, broke a big run and scored a touchdown to put WVU ahead to stay. I’m pretty sure that while all the Mountaineer faithful were cheering for their team to win, the rest of the country was pulling hard for UConn. Heck, if I weren’t a die-hard Mountie, I’d have been pulling for UConn myself.
I’m glad the Mountaineers won, but I hated to see the Huskies lose. Even in defeat, though, the players, coaches, and fans of the University of Connecticut showed incredible dignity and class. They realized that but for one play, they may well have won the game. They understood that their team had played a great game, had given an incredible effort, had put their all into it. I’m certain Jazz would have been proud.
To be honest, I don’t know how those young men did it. I would have been a basket case, an emotional train wreck. But they kept it together; they knew their fallen teammate would have expected them to give their best effort. They knew that playing their hardest was the best way to honor their friend. They did themselves and Jazz proud.
I’ve always liked the Huskies football team and cheer for them, except for when they play the Mountaineers. Go, Huskies, and let’s go, Mountaineers!