SALT LAKE CITY —
Riley Nelson is a (barely) walking cliche. A time-honored tradition says there's "no quit" in certain athletes, and surely the BYU quarterback is one of them.
He told the media on Monday that he played last week at an estimated 65 percent capacity, thanks to an injured back. That's a poor percentage, whether it involves a quarterback, a small forward or an air conditioner. So now we learn BYU's potential starter for Friday's game is working at the efficiency of a 1945 tractor engine.
Coaches are saying he might play anyway.
Nelson went so far as to say he didn't want the responsibility of deciding whether he could play; that was the coaches' decision. But asked if his competitiveness would allow him to bench himself, he said "probably the answer is no; I'd probably lie."
In other words, Nelson is going to give it his best shot, a warrior to the end.
Problem is, he would be hurting the team in so doing.
It's a shame no mas has acquired such a bad name.
Athletes who fight through adversity and injury are lionized. It's hard not to be moved by the image of the battered and beaten hero, striving to prevail. One of the great images of NBA history is New York's Willis Reed, hobbling onto the court for Game 7 against the Lakers, nursing a torn thigh. The Knicks went on to win the 1970 NBA championship. Don't forget Boston pitcher Curt Schilling's bloody sock in the 2004 postseason and Emmitt Smith fighting through a Dallas Cowboys' game with a first-degree shoulder separation.
Courageous moments, as were many others.
Yet none were more inspiring than baseball giant Lou Gehrig asking to be removed from the lineup by manager Joe McCarthy because disease had sapped his strength. Gehrig believed that by staying on the field he was hindering his team.
As he neared his fateful retirement, Gehrig said, "I decided last Sunday night on this move. I haven't been a bit of good to the team since the season started. It would not be fair to the boys, to Joe McCarthy or to the baseball public for me to try going on. In fact, it would not be fair to myself, and I'm the last consideration.
"It's tough to see your mates on base, have a chance to win a ballgame and not be able to do anything about it. McCarthy has been swell about it all the time. He'd let me go until the cows came home, he is that considerate of my feelings, but I knew in Sunday's game that I should get out of there. I went up there four times with men on base; once there were two there. A hit would have won the ballgame for the Yankees, but I missed, leaving five stranded, and the Yankees lost. Maybe a rest will do me some good. Maybe it won't. Who knows? Who can tell? I'm just hoping."
Nelson should remember that taking a day off isn't necessarily a sign of weakness or a lack of character. He has traditionally seemed tougher than Jordan Wynn, the Utah quarterback who retired after two games this season. Wynn's constant battle with injuries forced him to step down, saying he wanted to be able to use his arm when he's older. The Utes moved ahead with Jon Hays.
In that context, Wynn may have been more helpful to his team by leaving.
Sometimes you have to know when to say when.
Though Nelson said he could accept being benched if coaches insisted, he also said, "I don't think I could ever bow out."
At least for now, he should.
Nelson can't be faulted for battling through injuries; it's a prized trait in any sport. At the same time, a 100 percent Taysom Hill would be more effective than a 65 percent Nelson.
Whether it's sports or tractoring, you don't want to hit the field unless all the cylinders are firing.