By: Dave Baker
I spend my Sundays at a friend’s condo during football season. It’s become a bit of a ritual. My friends and I drag ourselves their around 11 to catch up with Chris Berman and the Sunday Countdown crew, mainline Gatorade and rehash whatever shit we got into the night before – who got black out, who did something stupid, who brought home a random bar skank – before gorging on Buffalo wings and NFL football. For born and raised New Englanders, our loyalties span generations of football history and miles of geography. There’s Mootz, a Dolphins fan, who learned to read while Dan Marino set records; Chasse, a 49ers fan, who talked himself into Alex Smith; John, a painfully optimistic Redskins fan; and myself, a Bears fan by way of Bill Swerski and Saturday Night Live. There’s a rotating door of Patriot and Giant fans, but they don’t quite fit in football purgatory. This ritual is apart our release, an escape from the stress and grind of life in the Great Recession, as it is for so many others like us; people who look forward to venting their frustrations by yelling at the millionaires playing a game on their TV every week.
This past Sunday, in between submitting fantasy roster changes and placing last minute bets, I heard a fragmented sentence, including some combination of the words “Torrey Smith…brother…dead,” eventually learning that the younger brother of Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith died in a motorcycle accident early on Sunday morning. My immediate reaction was, “You think he’ll play?” followed by “Damn, to be a fly on the wall during the pregame talk Ray Lewis is going to give him.” Ever so often, professional athletes do something special that reminds us they are among a select group of people, people with physical and mental endurance beyond comprehension. On a day when just bringing himself to his feet would have amazed anyone, Torrey Smith did something remarkable: he played a professional football game. And he didn’t just strap up his helmet. Smith caught six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns, helping his team defeat a conference rival.
What Torrey Smith did against the Patriots was evocative of another brilliance in the face of tragedy performance, Brett Favre’s legendary Monday night game the day after his father died of a stroke. Favre tossed four touchdowns and 399 yards in a 41-7 romp of the Raiders, an iconic moment in a Hall of Fame career. The hard truth is the football world won’t remember Torrey Smith like they remember Brett Favre. Whether we acknowledge it or not, a wideout with dreadlocks playing in the wake of losing a sibling doesn’t draw the same respect as a white quarterback, who happens to be football royalty, playing after the loss of his father. Right or wrong, that is the world we live in – white tragedy just sells better. But what I witnessed on Sunday was strength and perseverance in their purest forms. A sullen man facing a loss that would have destroyed most suited up and found refuge in the game he loves. It’s moments like these that remind us of football’s humanity. That amidst the violence and frenzy we look forward to for 60 minutes a week, this man found peace and solitude. There may never be an NFL Network documentary on it, but what Torrey Smith did last Sunday was special.
Black or white, rich or poor, life is full of uncertainty and can, at times, be pretty fucking scary. I drove home that Sunday and spent the rest of the night wading through a stack of homework, preparing for another week of cubicle hell by day and finishing my degree by night. Shuffling through the days in quiet discontent brought my friends and I to where we are now: working middling jobs and living in our hometown, the only highlights of our week consisting of a few drinking sessions and watching sports. I needed a shot of inspiration and the sight Torrey Smith kneeling in the end zone is something I’ll remember for a very long time.