You knew it was a bad situation when the cart was brought onto the playing field of the New Meadowlands Stadium late in the fourth quarter of Rutgers' 23-20 overtime win over Army on Saturday October 16.
And it was, in all likelihood, the worst day ever in the life of defensive tackle Eric LeGrand, who just turned 20 years old last month. But what made the event even more heartbreaking was seeing Eric's mother watching it all happen from her seat in section 110. I was sitting about ten rows behind her in the same section, and saw something I hope I shall never see again.
Rutgers had just scored to tie the game at 17-17. On the kickoff to Army, Eric hit Army returner Malcolm Brown hard with his helmet on the Army 25 yardline. Both players hit the turf; Brown got up, but Eric was sprawled on the turf, unable to move. The training staff ran out to Eric, then head coach Greg Schiano.....and then the call came for the cart, which is used to move seriously injured players who can't get off the field under their own power.
I first noticed the woman wearing the scarlet #52 jersey with "LeGrand's Mom" stenciled in the back before game time; there were several other players families and friends seated in the section and those adjoining it. As her son lie on the turf with EMT's and the medical staffs of both Rutgers and Army working on him, my attention focused on Eric's mother in a cold, silent stadium with more than 40,000 onlookers. The fans were watching the medical staff trying to stabilize a man with no movement in his body, and could not even raise his neck....by all accounts, he's a good hardworking kid, and a solid contributor to the team.
But the lady wearing that #52 jersey was watching her baby suffer....and watching her made my heartbreak.
Eric's mother was allowed onto the field, where Coach Schiano met her, and somberly embraced her in a touching gesture that made me feel that I...and all of the other onlookers....were somehow eavesdropping on this very private moment of shared sorrow of two people who held the common bond of their individual love and affection for this young wounded warrior.
Eric was taken to Hackensack University Hospital after being treated for about seven minutes and carted out of the stadium. Rutgers went on to rally and win in overtime on Joe Martinek's touchdown. There was the immediate joy of the win for the team and the fans, but then the joy evaporated when thoughts turned to Eric LeGrand
Coach Schiano had an abbreviated post game press conference, but his main concern was for the well being of Eric LeGrand. Below, and excerpt from The Star-Ledger's Dave Hutchinson.
‘When you coach these kids, they’re your kids,’’ said Schiano, his eyes watering.
‘‘That’s the thing I don’t know if everybody gets. It’s not pro football. Those are your kids. You’re raising them. You’re finishing the job for their parents, so it’s tough.
Eric LeGrand underwent emergency surgery at Hackensack University Hospital late Saturday- in layman's terms, he has a broken neck. Eric fractured the C-3 and c-4 vertebrae in his neck, and has no feeling below his neck. There is concern that he may never walk again.
Below, the update from scarletknights.com on Eric Legrand's status.
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (October 17, 2010) - Rutgers junior defensive tackle Eric LeGrand (Avenel, N.J.) suffered a spinal cord injury in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game vs. Army. The injury was at the C3-C4 level and emergency surgery was performed by doctors throughout the night at Hackensack University Medical Center to stabilize the spine.
“We want to say thank you to everyone for all of your prayers, kind words, and well wishes,” the LeGrand family said. “We appreciate every single thought. Eric is in good spirits and we are praying for a full recovery.”
Eric is resting in the intensive care unit at Hackensack University Medical Center and will remain there for the near future. Currently, he has no movement below the neck.
“Eric, his family and the Rutgers Football family believe he will recover,” said Rutgers head football coach Greg Schiano. “We ask our fans and the entire Rutgers community to believe and pray for Eric as he begins the recovery process.
Coach Schiano spent the night at the hospital with Eric's mother, Karen, and family members. Among those who wish Eric a full and speedy recovery is former Penn State player Adam Taliaferro, who suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury 10 years ago and was given a 3% chance of recovery, but beat the odds and walked again. Eric was remembered as a selfless player by coaches and team mates at Colonia High School- his running backs coach at Colonia, Nick Ruta, said the following.....
“He’s one of the best kids to come through our program, not just as an athlete but as a human being. He’s one of those kids who is the reason why you love to coach. The reason why you love to teach.’’
I've spent a good deal of my life watching football. You always see injuries, large and small. In 99% of the cases there are full recoveries from sprains, pulls, and broken bones. You hope you never see something as terrible as a young man possibly crippled for life in playing the game. For every Adam Taliaferro and Dennis Byrd, who suffered spinal chord injuries and yet walked again, you will also find Darryl Stingley or Marc Buoniconti who did not.
When you see a serious injury during a game on TV the announcer will send the audience to a commercial break where you can be entertained by E-Trade Babies and the Geico Gecko. But in a silenced arena or stadium thousands share moments of horror- it's in front of you, and you don't and can't turn away. You're reminded of just how dangerous the sport can be....and in the case of Eric LeGrand, we were looking at a college student, not a well paid professional.
Football is a game that has high risks of injury, and yet we have fans who don't seem to appreciate the hard work, effort, and sacrifice those who play it make. I've never understood the mentality of certain fans who boo college players, often while their families are in the stands. Very simply, they don't deserve it.
My thoughts and prayers are with Eric LeGrand and his family. And our extended Rutgers family has experienced yet another tragedy, this following the suicide of Tyler Clementi several weeks ago.
Be strong friends..........
Much more on Eric LeGrand and the latest at Scarlet Scuttlebutt.
|Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand carted off on backboard with neck injury|