The Power of the Postseason
By BJ Bennett
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Teams connect with local communities a variety of different ways during bowl season, but one in particular usually has an especially lasting influence.
Each college football season is a fast-paced flurry of win-or-else barrages, an overhyped, oversold autumn filled with high drama, high expectations and the overwhelming idea that what happens here lives on forever. After a brief reprieve, bowl games are no different. With the nation watching, postseason positioning can impact a player's draft status, a coach's job security and even a program's potential league affiliation. Lost in the minutia of the coverage and attention is, oftentimes, the vitally-important big picture.
A bowl game trip serves as an all-inclusive reward for a year's worth of hard work. Players travel to destinations like Atlanta, Miami, Orlando and Tampa and spend close to a week enjoying the best each city has to offer. Breaks from the gridiron grind generally include trips theme parks, tourist attractions and sponsor-comped shopping sprees at nearby department stores. For strictly-observed student-athletes, bowl games provide a veritable vacation with their extended team family.
Though not likely to garner the spotlight of a pre-game press conference, participating schools do a wonderful job of planning non-profit volunteer efforts during the game-week schedule. It's a common practice across the board, and one for which programs should be applauded and commended. Taking time to help those less fortunate has become an extremely important postseason tradition, the most meaningful of the gameweek activities. Teams connect with local communities a variety of different ways, but one in particular usually has an especially lasting influence.
Few things nullify the differences of race, religion, color or creed like sickness. Rich or poor, illness hits every family with the same devastating blow. Especially, when the one affected is a child. Seeing a loved one struggle with their health is one of the most hopeless feelings any individual can have. Nights spent in the hospital are draining, a constant wear on those bed-ridden and those bedside. Selfless help comes from doctors and nurses, neighbors and, sometimes, the heavens. On very special instances, it comes from a 6'5'' lineman or a receiver who runs a 4.45.
Visits from athletes and celebrities can boost the mood of a child in suffering as dramatically as any medicine or care. While most college football players are unassuming young adults who could blend in to any crowd, they enter the room in a flowing cape in the eyes of young fans in need. For the sick, the positive energy from a player's visit might be just the boost they need. Even in those brief moments of interaction, the only contagion in the room is a smile.
"The visit was great and a positive time to make the kids smile. I had fun interacting with the kids who are in a more serious situation than we are and just making them smile," South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson nodded of his time at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa. "It's bigger than football. It's good to know they'll have a positive thing when you know they may have some negative days surrounding that."
The impact of each hospital trip lingers. While still in the same room, patients generally move forward from a completely different place. New fans are made; more importantly, so are new friends. Time spent almost always leaves quite the impression on the player as well. For athletes accustomed to constant routine and sometimes limited by the pressures their responsibilities bring, visits like those to sick kids can serve as a worthwhile reality check.
"It's really important to me, and it's a humbling experience to spend time with these kids," LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry beamed of the Tigers' trip to Atlanta's Scottish Rite Children's Hospital. "I feel that community service is a big thing for us. When you have that spotlight on you, I guess you can say in a sense, there's nothing like sharing it. Having the opportunity to be blessed and the ability to change a kid's life, it's really important and means a lot to me."
It's an experience many players never forget.
"The people are always so happy to see you and it is by far one of the most memorable autographs you will ever give and photos you will ever take," remembered former Florida first-team All-American tight end Ben Troupe. "I like the fact that the families of the kids are so open and honest with you. In the midst of it all, we get to provide a distraction from their worries and stress for a few hours. I really am blessed to have been able to put a smile on people's faces because that is what we were all there to do. It made the games seem so small in retrospect to doing good deeds. It didn't feel like you were volunteering, but what you were meant to do."
Many have grumbled over the number of postseason pairings the bowls bring. Others have criticized the layoff between the end of college football's regular season and the start of its stretch run. Truthfully, the bottom line is always one spaced for seven figures, and bowl games are no different. Considering the good that does come out of the lead-up, the widespread hugs and laughter that is annually shared, maybe there is more than money at play here. Perhaps it's divine intervention.
As teams prepare to compete in their most important games of the season, they will hopefully do so well-aware of what's on the line and clearly in-tune with what's not. Though they will soon step right into the national spotlight, their collective performances on life's biggest stage have already left their mark.
LSU Visits Atlanta Hospital; Video from Jacques Doucet http://WAFB.com