Wiedmer: Crush has big night on many fronts

Wiedmer: Crush has big night on many fronts

August 2nd, 2010 by Mark Wiedmer in Opinion Columns

This morning will begin like most Mondays for Marquis Griffin. The 30-year-old Brainerd High and UT-Martin grad will arrive at Dupont just before 7 to begin his 12-hour shift as a computer programmer.

By Wednesday, he'll even feel like being there.

"It usually takes me two or three days to get over these games," said Griffin following the Tennessee Crush's 25-11 victory over the North Georgia Bulldogs in a key United South Football League contest Saturday night at Finley Stadium.

"But I still love playing football. I've loved playing my whole life. And after a game like this, a few of the folks I work with may even tell me, 'Great game.'"

In the small, small world of semi-pro football, the Crush's victory was about as great as it gets. Five times previously the two rivals had played. Five times previously the Bulldogs had won, including a 16-14 victory earlier this season.

To put that game into better focus, the Crush was 6-1 on the season before Saturday. It had not allowed a single point in any of those victories.

"It was great to get some revenge," said defensive lineman Darius McDonald, the Howard High product who blocked a Bulldog field goal inside the final four minutes after North Georgia had pulled within 19-11.

"There was lots of talking out there. We wanted a shutout. We want a shutout every game. That's what we do. But it's still really good to get this win."

It was good for a lot of reasons. On a humid summer night that had begun with rain showers, the Crush still had close to 1,000 fans in the stands, a season high in its final regular-season home game.

One of those fans, Barbara Rico - whose son Tracey owns the Crush - was watching them play for the first time after winning her battle with cancer.

There was also the economic impact of the Benefit Bowl - as it was promoted by Rico - which delivered a big victory for for the battle against epilepsy.

"It was a great win for the Crush and also a great win for the Epilepsy Foundation of Southeast Tennessee with $1,780 raised," said foundation director Mickey McCamish. "With these dollars, the Tennessee Crush will make a difference in the lives of so many people with epilepsy."

And that is a big part of the difference between Rico's team and so many others in the USFL and other minor football leagues.

"We're not trying to get rich here," said Rico. "We want to help these players and we also want to give something back to the community."

To that end, Crush players don't have to pay to be a part of the team. They also aren't responsible for uniforms and equipment. And they're also constantly shopped to higher leagues by Rico and head coach Nathan O'Neal.

"Now we definitely want to win a championship," said Rico. "But as I told our team before this game, if your happiness is measured by winning and losing football games, you're going to be a miserable person. We're a developmental program. We're here to help these guys get to the next level, whatever that is."

Getting to either a championship, the next level or both got a little harder for Crush linemen Josh Williams and Jacob Shubert, who were both injured against the Bulldogs and are expected to miss the team's final two regular-season games.

Still, with rematches scheduled against two teams the Crush well, crushed by a combined 130-0 the first time they played, Rico's squad should earn a first-round bye in the USFL playoffs with a chance to advance to the league title game at Finley on Sept. 25.

"We need to win a championship," said Griffin, who's known as "Fat" around his teammates. "It would mean a lot to the Ricos and to this city."

As Griffin spoke, his wife, Shunyale, and daughters Raven, 6, and Meagan, 1, cheered from the Finley stands.

"They think I'm crazy," he said. "But they love it."

So after five years of craziness, how much longer does Griffin intend to play for no pay?

"As long as my old legs let me," he smiled.