Having played on the 1977-80 Virginia Cavalier football team – well, practiced mostly – I was interestedly watching the Cavs (seldom televised anymore) play the Miami Hurricanes yesterday evening. As they hung on to a slim 6 point lead, early in the fourth quarter, they failed to score from inside the 5 yard line on third and simple. So, the necessary kicker and holder trundled out to attempt a consolation-prize field goal. The ball was snapped to the holder. The holder placed the ball uppy-downy between turf and fingertip, executing a laces-obviating quarter spin, and the kicker’s shoe impacted and propelled the ball through the uprights. Wait! A pair of penalties on a pair of over zealous Miami players — off-sides (declined) and roughing the kicker (accepted) — gave Virginia the ball again, and they scored three plays later, extending their lead to 23-7.
On the ensuing kick off, Herb Waters, a Junior wide receiver with Miami, sustained an injury that left him in a heap, motionless on the turf. My years-long honed enthusiasm for the Cavs and dislike for their opponents was suspended in an instant, I held my breath for what seemed like an NFL Films cinematic slow-mo replay. I watched with laser focus as a small army of team (both) trainers, and emergency medical technicians went to work. They double-timed it out to where Waters lay, bringing the imposing and dreaded back board with its myriad straps and cushioned but rigid triangular head blocks. Encircling the injured Hurricane, they immobilizingly positioned him for transport. “Move something! Move your foot, or a hand!,” I demanded. But nothing moved, and they whisked Waters off the field to the University hospital.
Both Virginia and Miami have soldiered on through disappointing seasons this fall. Each a mediocre team relative to season opening hopes and expectations, tilting in hopes of notching a sixth win and bowl eligibility. Sports is a universe full of lessons to be learned — lessons about sadness and disappointment to be suffered, jubilation to be celebrated, battles to be fought and struggles to be endured, the fleeting and changeable nature of success, the brevity of being on top and the bullseye worn by those who are there. At the end of the day though, sports are only sports — paling in importance to a few things that are far weightier and real.
The final score was 30-13, Virginia over Miami. I went to bed at game’s end, but restlessly replayed what I’d seen through a fitful night of light sleep. I awoke and later went to church prayerfully thinking of Waters. Home from service, and still distracted by not knowing what his condition was, I googled injured Miami player, and learned very happily his injury had not turned out to be severe, and that he had been cleared to travel home with his team.
Mr. Waters, though the outcome has kept a light wind in Cavalier bowl prospect sails, and Miami’s post season hopes are not overly promising, I and all who read this and understand celebrate your far more weighty and real win.