Today is a day that lives vividly with me in time.
October 16, 2010, started out like most other Saturdays. Rutgers Football fans were getting ready for another tilt. This one would be against ARMY up at MetLife Stadium. Instead of going to the Island, I was with friends at Lot L5.
Throughout the game, each and every player on the 2010 team showed their skills and ability. But the play that remains embedded in my mind is the kickoff return in the 4th Quarter.
Malcolm Brown of ARMY has the ball at the 8…
Up to the 10…
To the 15…
Number 52, Eric LeGrand stops Malcolm cold at the 25…
But the noise. The noise of that hit was different. Very different.
Malcolm falls to the ground. He shakes his head and gets up.
Eric falls to the ground, motionless. He does not get up. He does not move. His legs remain frozen about six inches off the ground before slowly dropping to the field. Immediately, I know something is gravely wrong.
The crowd goes suddenly quiet with only a few utterances.
Stephen Pratti and Arno Rheinberger, assistant trainers for Rutgers Football, are sprinting to Eric.
Malcolm stumbles off with what is later reported as a broken collarbone.
Something is very wrong with Eric. There is no movement in any of his limbs.
Players from both teams take a knee.
For almost 5 minutes, we watch as Eric is attended to by the medical staff from both RFootball and ARMY. Quickly, the medical cart is brought out.
As Eric is placed on the backboard, I become aware of Eric’s mom, Karen, and his sister Nicole, being escorted to the field. The image through my telephoto lens of Coach Greg Schiano speaking with her – the look on her face – changed everything about the game the game for me.
It was no longer a bunch of guys running – flying – around on the field to get a ball. It was not cheering on RFootball to become better, faster, stronger. It was about the players and their families.
I watched the cart drive off the field. There was applause, but it was muted. Eric did not give a thumbs up. The guys around me and I knew it was bad.
The game was finished and Rutgers won, 23-20, in overtime with a 1-yard scamper into the end zone by Joe Martinek. Names like D.C. Jefferson, San San Te, Kieth Stroud, Mohammed Sanu, Kordell Young, Mark Harrison and Chas Dodd were all involved in the game. But the name that stayed with Rutgers fans from that day is Eric LeGrand.
Returning home, the information provided on radio and TV did not change: Eric LeGrand sustained a serious injury to his neck and is currently at Hackensack Medical Center being evaluated.
Sunday, October 17, the press release was made: Eric LeGrand suffered broken C3 and C4 vertebrae. Inability to breathe on his own. Multiple hours in surgery to stabilize his spinal column.
I will never forget my initial two thoughts when I heard these prognoses. Please Lord, let him regain his life. Give his family strength.
Over the next week, worse news came out: Complete paralysis. 100% reliance on others for everything. Posts on the recruiting boards and the various websites that supported Rutgers University, Athletics, Football, and hosted discussions about current events ran the gamut of ideas from offering thoughts and prayers for him and his family to trying to the play as a reason football should be banned to posters making personal attacks on those using the incident to promote their opinions.
But those who were truly involved with the student athletes at Rutgers,
True to his nature and his upbringing, Eric did not give up.
The Rutgers Football Rally Chant is Keep Choppin’!
Indeed, Eric LeGrand has done that over these past five years and still does today. Indeed, this injury would change the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in ways that could not be imagined at that moment. In five years, everyone who has had even a passing interest in football has probably heard of Eric LeGrand. Families who are dealing with spinal cord injuries have heard of Eric LeGrand. Those in need of inspiration can look at Eric and his life of proof that adversity can be overcome with will, drive, and determination that all come from within.
Experts said that Eric would not be able to breathe on his on. On November 23, 2010, he began breathing on his own. Experts said he would never eat on his own again. On November 25, 2010 – Thanksgiving – Eric proved the experts wrong again by being able to eat solid foods. Within six months, he began to gain motion in his neck and shoulders. Today, he continues to confound the experts by continuing to gain more and more motion throughout his upper body. His goal is to walk again. Watching what he has done in these five brief years, I believe he will.
But this is more than just about Eric. This is also about what the Rutgers University Football Team is about. Eric is part of F.A.M.I.L.Y (Forget About Me; I Love You) here at Rutgers. This is where support is offered when needed in a variety of ways, but unconditionally. Most importantly, it begins with the belief in the preciousness of each human being.
Consider the following video, The Education of Eric LeGrand:
Today, thoughts are found from Coach Greg Schiano and a number of players in retrospect of the game, the injury, and Eric on The Player’s Tribute. Likewise, Eric has given his own thoughts on the injury. All are provided in the links below.
Eric has shown everyone that anything is possible if you put your mind to it, work hard and bELieve. I have met Eric twice since his injury. Each time, his manner, comportment, his will and drive to excel and achieve in his own life is proof that I can state this again: I firmly believe that Eric WILL walk again.
I believe every fan who was at that game in 2010 will reclaim their seats someday and watch as Malcolm Brown of ARMY pulls Eric up to his feet from that spot where the play ended and both walk off to finish that play.
In honor of the day, the play, and the ongoing efforts of Eric, I am asking you to consider a $5 donation in support of spinal cord injury research by texting LEGRAND to 20222. Thank you.