Members of the 2013 Utah football team know, maybe more clearly than a lot of college athletes, that none of us is guaranteed another day on the turf.
The Utes lost a teammate, Gaius “Keio" Vaenuku, before the season began, and they’ve helped each other through the tragic and untimely deaths of family members.
They lost the on-the-field services of starting quarterback Travis Wilson after an MRI for a concussion revealed a pre-existing condition that may end his football career. And remember that in September of last year, these same players lost teammate and starting quarterback Jordan Wynn to career-ending shoulder injury.
On the field this season was tumultuous.
The Utes beat their rival for the fourth straight season, and they earned one of the most significant wins in the program’s history when they beat Stanford, which was ranked No. 5 at the time.
But they lost dramatically in overtime, and they suffered a couple of humiliating blowouts. And then, playing a game against Colorado that many of their fans didn’t even bother to show up to watch, Reilly had an interception that mercifully ended a five-game losing streak.
So he threw the ball into the stands above the south end zone — the same stands where fans crowd along the rail, begging for gloves, wristbands, or any token of remembrance as players they admire make their way to the locker room after games.
Athletic competition can bring out the worst in a person. It can also bring out the best. Sometimes the struggle makes us look like heroes. Sometimes our behavior makes those of us who deeply love sports appear small-minded and cold-hearted.
But the beauty of sports, of rivalries, of competition is that because of our affection and our dedication, small moments can hold great magic.
And seeing someone who’s suffered and sacrificed and worked so hard for so long win the day, even a rather ordinary day, is one of those magnificent moments where throwing a football into the stands becomes a statement for a player, a team and their fans.
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