By Tony Hooker
I don’t know if it was hitting my speed limit birthday or what, but I spent most of the past week ruminating about life, and such.
Introspection sometimes hurts and this week was no exception. A quick Facebook conversation with a wise friend pointed out that my sports obsession can sometimes be downright unhealthy. When the Blue Devils, Illini and Cardinals all lost last weekend, I was despondent. Ridiculous. A fellow who has been blessed with the life that I have shouldn’t allow his self-worth to be tied to grown men playing games that I have no way of influencing the outcome of.
After much internal wailing and gnashing of teeth, I decided that maybe I should take a step back. Maybe I should detach myself from the teams that I know are almost inevitably going to break my heart.
And then, Friday night happened. And then, Chase Burwell happened.
You see, Chase loves to play the game of football. It’s been his passion since forever, and one of his dreams is to play the game he loves beyond high school. The problem is, his body keeps inconveniently betraying him by breaking down while he’s pursuing his fervor.
I’ll let him list his ailments, chronologically.
How many injuries have you had, playing football?
Let’s see. Sophomore year, I had a high ankle sprain for most of the season. I just played through that one. Junior year, I basically shattered my ankle during seven on sevens during the summer. I had three surgeries to put it back together. <laughs>
Then this year, I overdid it and broke the metatarsal bone in my toe. I missed three games and they’re only letting me play defense, right now.
Why? Why do you keep coming back for this? Is it just for the love of the game?
Really, I’m just trying to make my parents proud of me. My dad’s always been a big believer in me, and I want to make him proud.
All that pain and sacrifice, for another chance to put on the pads and get after it with his buddies, in front of his parents and fans.
While watching him last night, it occurred to me. The passion he displays for the game, mirrored on countless fields, diamonds and courts all across America, is why I keep coming back, even after countless gut punches. They don’t quit playing hard, so I can’t quit rooting hard. It’s a pact I made with myself a long time ago, and every once in a while, the magic happens. It happened a few days ago when the Cardinals blew out the Braves. It happened when the Illini beat “The” OSU at the horseshoe when the Buckeyes were ranked number 1 in the country. And it happened last night, when a 66-yard prayer was answered, allowing the Blue Devils to beat Cumberland for the first time in 4 years.
As for Burwell, what was he thinking when the Devils scored the miracle TD?
I said a little prayer to myself and closed my eyes, and when I opened them, everyone had their arms in the air signaling touchdown. I just dropped to my knees and said thank you. It was crazy, the best game I’ve ever seen.
There it is. Sports matter. To Chase and his teammates and to everyone who competes at any level. Those of us who can’t compete any longer sometimes are compelled to hold on through our fanship, and that can be a good thing, I suppose, as long as we don’t get so deep into being fans that we lose our personal identity. As for Chase’s parents, I feel confident in saying that he’s accomplished his mission.