The USC football team now has something unique, something special for which to play. They can momentarily set aside concerns about the SEC East Title, a conference championship, a good bowl game, a winning season – or even beating Clemson. The special focus on everyone's heart this week is remembering those who are missing, who will never get to play again, work, sing, study, laugh, or dream.
It is unfair that life gives us burdens that we don't deserve. Just ask the families of the six South Carolina college students and one Clemson student, whose loved ones can play games no more, lives cut short by a tragic beach house fire in Ocean Isle N.C., their lives now but memories – memories still fresh, but the presence of their essence gone. How could football matter? Simply this: It is a sign of life. Play on.
The young look ever forward, and attending big events can be everything. In college everything is an opportunity. Everything is possible. Everything is here and now, and yet the future is the goal. College is a chance to do and to become; and by becoming, one can do great things.
Sometimes great things are accomplished quietly, like being true to one's self and being true to one's values. Other times, great things are accomplished publicly. The Gamecock football team is such an example. They are called publicly, by these events and circumstances, to be great this Saturday night - great as in great effort, great team work, great understanding of the place of one among many, and great strength of purpose to rebound from loss and heartache far deeper and more important than an overtime loss to Tennessee. Those young people who play games, we who watch games, and even those who don‘t - all are called again by this tragic reminder to live vibrantly each day. We are reminded to live today as if it were our last, to play each "game" in life as if it were our final chance to play. Every game is Senior Night.
Saturday night in Fayetteville in front of a national television audience, Carolina's football team must play with memories of fellow students many players may have never known or met personally. But play on they will. The Gamecocks must play, remembering these young men and women - because they can play. It's the way of the young. These football players will remind us all that we can recover and play on.
The players can't escape this link, they can't avoid it. This is their campus, the young people lost were their contemporaries. They all shared space and time, common interests and diverse preferences. The Carolina community needs this shared public display of football - a game - for a brief span of time, during an important time.
The "Big Men on Campus" cannot just acknowledge the loss of "normal," though unique, college students who can never walk the Horseshoe or the Pickens Street Bridge again. These players must play like there is no tomorrow.
They must give outstanding effort, not for those who have no more chances to play on earth, but rather for those left behind who miss them. A memorial service is not really for the deceased, but for the living. These Gamecock football players must unite the spirit of Carolina that engulfs all those who desire to be and those who desire to remain a part of something growing and learning and almost living itself – a University. These players are asked to drive away a sadness they did not cause, because at this time and place they are a focal point of the University community. A college team sometimes is not just a representative of a school, but an extension of its spirit. A collegiate sports team connects people who have shared the same space in different time periods, but for the same purpose. Sometimes a team even creates a school's identity, reflecting its collective thoughts or feelings and a camaraderie that produces a oneness and joy of kinship. The 80 odd Gamecock football players are now called upon to help restore some of that joy to their campus and their University community by playing in a football game that brings together Gamecock Nation and helps to bind up their wounds.
The glare of the spotlight will not be harsh this time, but inviting. The television audience will be sympathetic, the Arkansas partisans, understanding; but the visiting USC players will have to earn their success. During game time, there will be no sympathy.
Here is a message to the young men of the University of South Carolina football team, called upon now to show us how to recover and play on:
Go be young. Play hard. Show us your heart and your skill and your passion, your desire and guts and how you can recover from mistakes and play on. Play on for the memory of those who cannot play, and for those who miss them. Play on with vigor and passion, and seek the most outstanding results possible on every play. Play on to show us all that eventually, everyone affected can and should play again in this game called life. Play on with this inspiration for as long as you can - one game, maybe two, perhaps three games and then maybe even a bowl game. Show the young, the middle aged, and the old what the young can do, even after tragedy strikes.
Play on. Don't waste time worrying about wasted time. Use time. Don't be used by it. You as athletes at the University of South Carolina now have an unforgettable reminder to seize each day's opportunity to improve, embrace each contests' chance to excel, and revel in each opportunity just to play. Play on.
It will not take the memorial helmet decals they will wear to remind the USC football players of the feeling surrounding their college campus and the loss that caused it. They have faced "it" hourly since Monday morning and will carry it with them on the trip to Fayetteville, Arkansas. However, six Carolina families, six groups of loved ones and friends, and one group from Clemson face a much tougher burden that cannot be escaped by a road trip. These families, loved ones and friends need to see young people play on and succeed as a reminder of the potential that surely would have been produced over time in the lives of their own special young people.
Surely, God is the source of all comfort, and through the venue of music He brings comfort to the broken. Edwin McCain's "Prayer to St. Peter" begins,
"Let them in, Peter," and ends with,
"And tell them how they are missed.
But say, ‘Not to fear.
It's gonna be all right
With us down here.' "
To the South Carolina Gamecocks, and to all of Gamecock Nation: Find your games. Play them well, like there is no tomorrow. Hug and high five children, especially your own, while encouraging their play and success. We will be all right once everyone around here begins to play again.
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