Wiedmer: Past week shows there's more to life than winning or losing a football game

Wiedmer: Past week shows there's more to life than winning or losing a football game

October 9th, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Furman quarterback Harris Roberts drops the snap on a point-after attempt during the Mocs' home football game against the Furman Paladins at Finley Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

As University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach Tom Arth was wrapping up his news conference after Saturday evening's 41-17 loss to Furman, he said something that needed to be said by a lot of coaches this past weekend, win or lose.

"This isn't going to be the hardest thing our players have to go through in life," Arth. "It's not the hardest thing I'll have to go through in my life."

Amen, Brother Arth.

Amen.

Because at the end of the day, it's still a game, a game that those who play it at UTC's level or higher are quite fortunate to have the opportunity to play. That's especially true when you consider those 58 unfortunate souls murdered eight days ago in Las Vegas by a madman using weapons no civilian should ever be allowed to use.

Florida defensive backs Duke Dawson Jr., left, Chauncey Gardner Jr., back, and Jeawon Taylor tackle LSU wide receiver D.J. Chark during Saturday's game in Gainesville, Fla. The host Gators lost 17-16, but the crowd at The Swamp delivered a stirring moment by singing along to the late Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" after the third quarter.

Florida defensive backs Duke Dawson Jr., left, Chauncey...

Photo by John Raoux

For the friends and families of those 547 total victims — there were 489 injured in the attack — that's hopefully the hardest thing they'll ever have to go through. It's certainly a harder thing than any human being should ever be forced to go through, especially in a country supposedly as civilized as ours.

But that doesn't mean college football or any other form of entertainment is meaningless or unimportant at times such as this. For proof, merely check out the first overtime of Saturday's NCAA record-tying seven-overtime tussle between Buffalo and Western Michigan, which the latter won 71-68.

Western Michigan tight end Donnie Ernsberger had just caught a touchdown when his sister left the stands and ran onto the field to give him a big hug. Ernsberger, seemingly stunned by this development, tried to push her away. But it was too late — officials gave Western Michigan a 15-yard penalty anyway, the sister was escorted out of the stadium and the Broncos were forced to kick the extra point from 15 yards farther out. Fortunately for Western Michigan and the Ernsberger family, the kick was good and the Broncs won six overtime periods later.

While no college coach would or should recommend such sibling celebrations, for anyone who has a sister or brother, it was certainly heartwarming to see such pride and joy on display. And Ernsberger's sister wasn't the only touching moment from this past weekend in college football.

Obviously impacted by the tragedy in their city, UNLV players wore large red-ribbon decals on one side of their football helmets during Saturday's loss to San Diego State, which also wore the decals that had "Las Vegas" printed on them.

Then there was Florida's tribute to Gainesville native and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Tom Petty, who died this past week. Once upon a time, Petty worked as a groundskeeper on the Florida campus. At the close of the third quarter — after The Swamp crowd belted out its traditional "We Are the Boys from Old Florida" — it also delivered a stirring rendition of Petty's timeless hit "I Won't Back Down."

That LSU failed to back down while delivering a 17-16 loss to the Gators only slightly took away from the emotional high of 88,247 passionately paying tribute to one of America's more versatile and gifted rock stars.

But perhaps none of these moments carried the weight of what the University of Alabama at Birmingham did during its 23-22 homecoming win over Louisiana Tech on Saturday at Legion Field.

Instead of wearing their own names on the backs of their jerseys, 100 Blazers wore the names of patients at the Children's Harbor Family Center at Benjamin Russell Hospital, which is located a block away from the UAB campus. To make the gesture twice as nice, UAB treated the families to seats in a special section of the stadium, then presented the jerseys to the children and their parents after the game.

It also didn't hurt the emotional level of the afternoon that the Blazers — who have adopted the hospital and make regular visits to see these seriously ill children — won by blocking a 30-yard field goal attempt as time expired.

Said Children's Harbor CEO Myrle Grate: "The joy and enthusiasm that Coach (Bill) Clark and the UAB players bring to the Children's Harbor families is palpable and brings a level of healing that is truly beyond our ability alone."

And if we ever needed all the healing help we could find for one of the hardest things to fathom that this great nation has ever been forced to deal with, it was this past week.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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