Last Sunday, I was parked in front of my television watching my favorite team come back from a deficit score to win against the Colts. It was great game with a lot of great plays and Tom Brady was in top form. But the play that I will remember most from that game was made by a lesser known player, Jamie Collins, a 6 foot, 3 inch, 250 pound linebacker. As the Colts lined up to kick the point after, Collins timed his leap perfectly to clear the entire front line of men and block the kick while still in the air. Not the sort of spectacular play one sees very often. But then, neither was the interception by Malcolm Butler to clinch this year’s Super Bowl win for the Pats. Or Brady’s lateral hand off to Julian Edelman who then executed a 51-yard pass to Amendola for a Touchdown. I love the Pats and Tom Brady, but believe me, those spectacular, unexpected plays are what I remember best.
But the real heroes in our sports crazy world are the ones you rarely hear about except in occasional local news coverage. Like a young woman named Meghan Vogel who modestly claims others would have done the same for her. When she saw a competitor collapse near the finish line in the state championships, instead of glancing at her fallen opponent as she passed by, she stopped to help the other girl to her feet and guided her toward the finish line, making sure the other girl crossed the line first.
Just recently on the evening news there was a heartwarming clip about 7 Olivet Middle School football players who decided that one of their teammates, who had a learning disability, should have his chance to make a touchdown. Without their coach’s knowledge, they put together a play to make that happen and Keith Orr carried the ball across the goal line to a standing, cheering crowd. Keith’s mother was asked how she felt about her son’s touchdown and she answered that she was excited, of course, but more than that, she was touched to know that his team mates had his back and he knew it. Where are stories like this when we keep hearing about bullying?
These stories are more numerous than you might think. Kevin Grow, who has Down’s Syndrome was allowed to play in the last two minutes of his fourth year with Bensalem High School after four years of faithfully serving as team manager. He was given the ball for a free shot and missed the hoop, but then in the remaining minutes of the game, managed to score 4 3-point baskets in less than two minutes. Cornhuskers Rex Burkhead befriended 7-year-old Jack Hoffman who was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Burkhead wears a bracelet with Team Jack on it when he plays and he checks on his small fan regularly saying he wishes he could do more. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRHRvMlFWdk)
The Cincinnati Reds auctioned off a one-day position as Bat Boy and then stretched their age limits to allow 29-year old Ted Kramer to have the position. He did so well, he was invited back and the joy on his face says it all. WWE star Daniel Bryan invited 9-year-old Bryan Connor into the ring to fulfill the dying child’s last wish and after winning his own bout, stepped out of the ring to go to Connor and tell him that he was his inspiration.
So, the next time you watch your favorite team play and cheer when they win, think of the hundreds of truly decent sportsmen and women with hearts of gold who make time in their busy star-level schedules to bring joy and inspiration into the lives of others. That’s who you should be admiring. It’s easy to be great when you are blessed with abundant talent, it takes heart and commitment to make the time to be great for someone else.