“Play every play like it’s the last play you’ll ever play.” It’s one of the great clichés in football.
Until it isn’t a cliché.
About 45 minutes from my front door is the University of Connecticut. Their football team spent last Saturday afternoon grinding Louisville down in a 38-25 win. Husky CB Jasper Howard helped lead the defense with 11 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Those efforts won him a game ball from the coaches.
When asked after the game about the defense’s bend-but-don’t-break performance against the Cardinals, Howard replied, “you gotta play every play like it’s your last play you’ll ever play.”
Twelve hours later, Howard was dead.
He was stabbed during an altercation outside a school dance on the UConn campus and bled to death. He was 20 years old. Several of his teammates were with him. UConn head coach Randy Edsall was called in to identify Howard’s body.
In the wake of Jasper Howard’s murder, the local media and fans here have explored the usual angles. The myth of the invincibility of a college athlete being shattered in tragic fashion once again. The targets that athletes often are whenever they go out in public. A mother searching for answers. An unborn child with a father she will never meet.
These are the things they’re grappling with within an hour’s drive away from me. But there two lessons from this sad story that can be learned by every college football fan, player, and supporter. Even those of us who are 3,000 miles away on The Farm.
One of those lessons is the true power of the game of football. Jasper Howard, nicknamed “Jazz”, was a kid from the “Little Haiti” section of Miami. He went to UConn largely to get away from that neighborhood and all of the problems it contained.
I’m sure that to him, football was a means of bettering himself and his situation. That’s a powerful force that football can actually provide. And judging from his contributions as one of UConn’s quiet leaders on the field and as the Big East’s reigning punt return champion, it appeared he was well on that road.
Now, his teammates will use football to honor Howard’s memory. Football will become a way for that team to try to band together in the face of a terrible, senseless tragedy. From here on out, they will try to play their best for their fallen teammate. No matter how many wins or losses UConn records over the final weeks of the season, their story will be a powerful one for the remainder of the season.
Football can serve as a healing force and as a means to a better life. But what makes football so special in this country is its power to unite people. Despite the fact that it is a basketball school first and foremost, UConn will try to draw strength from the fact that football brings people together more than anything else in this country.
It’s no coincidence that the top ten most-watched TV broadcasts this decade are all Super Bowls. It’s also no coincidence that most Homecoming festivities at colleges and high schools center around a football game. Nothing brings the alumni back, and few things are better suited to serve as a rallying point for alumni and students alike, than football.
With Homecoming festivities happening on The Farm, we’ll hopefully see that for ourselves this weekend. If, like me, you are taking this weekend to return to Stanford, enjoy it. Spend the time seeing old friends you may not have seen in years. Pick up old conversations right from where they left off. Start new conversations with new friends. Enjoy every moment you have.
Do those things because, no matter who you are, you never know when you may get the chance to do them again.
That’s the second—and the biggest—lesson Jasper Howard’s death should teach all of us. After all, 20-year-olds are supposed to have their whole lives in front of them. They’re not supposed to be bleeding their lives away in a teammate’s arms.
Going forward, the UConn community will try to turn a gut-wrenching week into a season that is memorable for the right reasons. Whether they succeed or not remains to be seen. But we can all learn from last weekend’s shockingly sad events and transfer them into our own outlooks on football and on life.
“Play every play like it’s the last play you’ll ever play” shouldn’t be a cliché for a bunch of football players 3,000 miles removed from most of us. It should be a way of life for all of us.
********** ********** **********
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
Earlier this year, I tried to compare this year’s Stanford team to the 1995 Cardinal. After what I watched last Saturday, I’m starting to wonder if comparisons with the 1994 team would be more accurate…
Still can’t figure out why Jim Harbaugh went for it on fourth down instead of kicking the field goal in the fourth quarter. Then again, if Chris Owusu hangs on to the ball and the Cardinal get six points there, it’s a moot point…
Andrew Luck is Stanford’s second-leading rusher. I’m not sure how I feel about this…
Granted, it’s easy to complete 80 percent of your passes when they’re only going two yards downfield, but Nick Foles was slightly more impressive than I gave him credit for. On the rare times when he did throw downfield, he showed good accuracy and touch. If they can build on that and become even more effective getting long plays from their passing game (instead of dinking and dunking and screening you to death), the Wildcats might actually become quite dangerous down the stretch…
Stat of The Week: Jahvid Best had a 93-yard touchdown run. Take away that touchdown run, and he carried the ball 17 times for a grand total of nine yards…
When there are 13 seconds left in a tie game and the other team has the ball at midfield, how in the world do you let two receivers get behind the entire defense? How, Washington, how?
Not a Pac-10 thought, but... as of now, the Alabama-Florida winner deserves a spot in the BCS Title Game. No question. But, based on what you’ve seen from Texas so far, do you really believe the Longhorns deserve to have the inside track on the other half of the puzzle?
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… how much better would Terrelle Pryor’s career be going right now if he was a Michigan Wolverine? Doesn’t he seem to fit better with what Rich Rodriguez is trying to do in Ann Arbor than what Jim Tressel does in Columbus?
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… I covered arena football for 11 years. That sport was great to watch in person, but not so much on TV. College football is very good on TV, and when done right, it’s the best spectator sport in the country. Now I’m starting to think that the NFL is becoming much, much better on TV than it is in person. Not too long ago, the NFL was equally great no matter where you watched it. But now, you’re fighting traffic. You’re shelling out big bucks for parking. You’re paying top dollar to sit in an antiseptic stadium that segregates everyone and neutralizes the crowd. You’re forking over $10 for a Dixie cup of your favorite beverage. You’re crawling through all the TV timeouts. You’re dodging the folks who think going to a football game is simply an excuse to get wasted and make jackasses of themselves and others. And then you’re fighting traffic again. I’d imagine that in most NFL markets now, the in-stadium NFL experience just isn’t worth the financial, physical, and mental effort you have to put in anymore. It’s becoming much easier to simply grab the remote, invite some buddies over, and call it a day. Especially if you’ve got the NFL Red Zone channel…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… that said, college football still isn’t a perfect product. The first half of that Oklahoma-Texas game took an hour and 54 minutes to play. That’s entirely too long…
********** ********** **********
CLARDY’S CORNER INBOX
Resident Duck fan Scott in Phoenix checks in:
“I would hold off on predicting Oregon to win the Pac-10 if I were you. Due to Chip Kelly calling every injured player 'day to day', I am wondering how serious Masoli's knee is. He might be back for Washington, or he might need an amputation.… Costa may get better as he gets more reps but losing Masoli hurts.
True. And certainly Costa didn’t set the world on fire at the Rose Bowl a couple weeks ago. It’s too bad that the Duck coaches are set on redshirting Darron Thomas; he actually showed he can complete forward passes consistently when we saw him against Boise State last year. Not convinced Costa or Masoli can do that right now.
Agree with this Corner? Disagree? Got something else on your mind? Drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc) or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The best e-mails will be answered in next week’s Clardy’s Corner Inbox!
********** ********** ***********
Wow…I’d have to go perfect the rest of the way (24-0) to match my straight-up record from last year. Piece of cake! Let’s begin…
Oregon @ Washington. A few months ago, I predicted the Huskies would upset the Ducks for the biggest surprise in the Pac-10. I could still see that happening, but two things prevent me from sticking to that prediction this week. Washington has already notched its surprise win at home, and I’m becoming less impressed with Washington’s ability to score touchdowns when it matters most. I like Oregon by 13.
Washington State @ cal. The Bears will win big, and the Weenies will declare themselves back in the race like nothing ever happened. Those fans are so predictable. I like cal by 51.
UCLA @ Arizona. The Bruins have one of the better secondaries in the Pac-10. But are they good enough to keep Arizona’s suddenly resurgent passing attack on its toes? The larger question is whether UCLA’s defense will get enough help from their own offense. My answers to both questions are the same: No. I like Arizona by 9.
Oregon State @ U$C. The Trojan defense sure looked average against Notre Dame down the stretch, didn’t they? It would not surprise me to see this game become a shootout. Heck, if this game was in Corvallis, I’d considering picking the Beavers outright. But I like U$C by 8.
Last week: 1-1 (straight-up), 1-1 (ATS).
This year: 6-6 (straight-up), 6-6 (ATS).
Last year: 30-6 (straight-up), 24-12 (ATS).
Coming next week: Pac-10 Midterms!
********** ********** **********
Troy Clardy hosts the Stanford Daily Update, airing every weekday at 7:30 p.m. on Cardinal Sports Network flagship radio station XTRA Sports 860 in San Francisco, and available in podcast form at GoStanford.com.
Clardy’s Corner appears Wednesdays on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg?
If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide
daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage
with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!