Bad luck wind been blowin’ on my back
I was born to bring trouble wherever I’m at
With the number 13 tattooed on my neck
-- Danzig, “Thirteen”
“And herein lies the tragedy of the age: not that men are poor,—all men know something of poverty; not that men are wicked,—who is good? not that men are ignorant,—what is Truth? Nay, but that men know so little of men.”
-- W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
“I felt it was finally time for me to decide what I really wanted to do in life.”
-- Spencer Pennington, on leaving the University of Alabama football team
Sometime today Matt Leinart will decide if he wants to become a millionaire in two months or in one year, and seconds after that he’ll be either decried or praised for it in a dozen newspapers. Earlier this week, the
Leinart, with a Heisman trophy and a National Championship (sorry, Eufaula) in his curriculum vitae, should represent all that is good in college football. Yet he runs a pro-style offense, for a pro-style coach, and they both may have pro-style ambition. To those critics who say college football has become little more than the NFL’s pro bono minor league, Leinart provides good evidence.
My alma mater’s suggested finale on rewarding talent seems no more than sour grapes from the elbow-patch crowd. If super-string theory proves correct, there may well be an alternate universe where special team coaches and defensive coordinators gripe about how ballet dancers get all the attention simply because alumni will throw any amount of money at a choreographer who ensures the school’s tradition of demi-plié in fourth position.
But on this world, Spencer Pennington, who will never play professional football or win any awards for quarterback, is walking away from football. He doesn’t need football: Football gave him two concussions and damaged an arm that once drew a six-figure contract from the Chicago Cubs. And frankly, the team may not need him: He began the year at third string and only started because Our Blessed Saint of Rainbow City got broke and the Californian choked. Reports have two high school prospects coming in on angels’ wings, one of whom playing on network TV already.
Friends of mine from the campus trolling days have a son entering his teens now. He is nothing but hormones, elbows and chin stubble, and he has taken to
“We’re not happy about this,” his mother says, ‘this’ being his idolizing young men whose lives will peak before they reach 24. But what of those men whose lives never peak, whose lives are a plateau of dissimilar disappointments linked only in that they did not risk failure for success?
Brodie Croyle scares the hell out of me. He was born into destiny. He has the hopes of an entire state on his shoulders each time he runs onto the field. Joe Namath takes his phone calls and the bastard doesn’t even have the decency to sweat. Thank God he doesn’t check off the safety on every pass else I’d fear he wasn’t human.
In his last football game, Spencer Pennington went temporarily blind in one eye. He spent halftime vomiting in the locker room. He also had his career best day under center and came one pass shy of going out a winner. He damn near died for your sins. He is so thoroughly human. He is your son. He is college football.