Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fran Tarkenton

85 scholarship players are allowed on a college football team. No more than 25 new scholarships kids can be brought in every year. When more scholarship players sign than there are scholarships available, many coaches, such as Alabama's Nick Saban and Ole Miss' Houston Nut, will pull scholarships from upperclassmen in order to nab the incoming stars, forcing the veteran players to take a "greyshirt"or a medical scholarship. With a greyshirt, players postpone the use of their scholarship to play football at a later time, but they have to pay their own tuition during the greyshirt period. A medical scholarship allows players to keep their financial aid, but forbids them from playing football again. In basketball, coaches view the Big Ten as the cleanest conference. In regards to pulling football scholarships, I think the Big Ten ranks pretty high on the 'cleanliness' scale as well.

Anybody who has read more than one post of mine will have figured out by now that I'm a Michigan State fan. As a fan, I know all about Arthur Ray Jr.'s story, but for readers who don't closely follow all things Michigan State related, I'd like to tell you about it and how it relates to the apparently unrelated information in the first paragraph. Arthur was already the star offensive lineman at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, IL, his freshmen year. By senior year, he had nine different scholarship offers to chose from before he settled on Michigan State in January, 2007. Prior to his signing, he'd noticed a bump on his right leg, but shrugged it off as a football injury. The bump continued to grow larger until one day, after he signed with MSU, it became so painful that he couldn't climb the stairs at school. Doctors began testing the bump, which they initially believed to be hematoma, or internal bleeding. The day before the Michigan State spring football game, it was revealed that the bump was not hematoma but was actually a cancerous tumor. Arthur was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer that about 300 people of the 900 diagnosed each year succumb to annually. The doctor told him, "Throw the football out the window. The most you'll do is run around with your grandkids." 

A few days later, a second opinion assured him that he would play football again. The first doctor's diagnosis was about 3 inches off. That is to say, if the cancer had been about 3 inches higher on Arthur's leg, by his knee instead of by his shin, he would have needed knee replacement surgery and then his dreams of playing football would be through. All he needed, though, was chemotherapy, nine surgeries, and 25 months using crutches to walk.

In July, 2007, Arthur underwent a 14-hour long surgery to remove the tumor. Rods, screws, and a plate were inserted into his leg to keep the bone in place. The surgery went well and Arthur seemed to be recovering until the doctors found a bone infection. He had another surgery in March, 2008, and this time, his tibia was removed for cleaning and replaced with a cement spacer for 8 weeks until he could have yet another surgery to reinsert the clean bone. This was far from his last surgery - that would be in December 2009, almost three years after his initial diagnosis.

How does any of this relate to the opening paragraph? Well, Arthur didn't come to school in fall 2007, but since he arrived in 2008, Michigan State has kept him on scholarship. While he was on crutches. When there was a still a chance that he might need his leg amputated. In January, 2011, over a year since his last surgery, MSU asked the NCAA to allow him to play again. On April 7, he put on his number 73 jersey and practiced for the first time in his collegiate career. It's unknown what will happen at this point - he might redshirt the 2011 season, play as a 5th years senior in 2012, and apply for a 6th year in 2013. He's determined to play this season. No matter what happens, though, his story has been pretty fantastic and pretty inspirational. 

Something to watch if you have lots of time on your hands (and something to read if you have even more time): this series of videos and this book. Louie Zamperini was an Olympic runner in the 1936 Olympics; obviously, Jessie Owens won that year, but Zamperini (at age 19) ran the last lap in 56 seconds; when Hitler met him, all he said was, "The boy with the fast finish." This was, of course, before Louie became a soldier in WWII, survived a plane crash, 47 days lost at sea, and two years as a POW in Japan. It's a pretty awesome story.

Today's honorary player is #10 Fran Tarkenton, the quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings from 1961-1967 and 1972-1978 (playing a few years with the New York Giants in between there). He holds the Vikings career passing yards record with 33,098 and the Vikings career passing touchdowns record with 239. Although he was the NFL MVP in 1975 (as well as the offensive player of the year) and went to 9 Pro Bowls (amongst other accomplishments), he never won a Super Bowl.

The Sports Nerd

1 comment:

  1. The Videos on Louie Zamperini are really an astonishing tail. To think that one could endure that is amazing. Thanks for sharing!