Victory: For Demarius
On a gray, rainy October afternoon that accurately reflected how we all felt inside, the Eastern Michigan University football team poured their hearts out on the field in a valiant effort against the Ohio Bobcats. I’m not going to say that they did not win the game. What every single person who watched them understands is that they won something bigger. They won a test of character, of spirit, and of courage.
I’ve never been more proud of a group of football players in my entire life, nor do I anticipate that I ever will be again.
With the players on the sideline holding two fingers in the air, Tyler Allen returned the opening kickoff ninety yards for a touchdown. That moment, the touchdown return, happened after the players came out on the field before the game holding Demarius Reed’s jersey. It happened after a short but dignified tribute to their teammate. It happened after a gut-wrenching moment of silence that left many of the players wiping away tears, and at least one person in the press box holding them in. To have the opening kickoff returned for a touchdown was special. It was Kirk Gibson’s homerun in 1988. It was Stanford’s kickoff return for a touchdown, running over the Cal band in 1982. It was Steve Yzerman’s mid-ice slapshot in 1996.
Think I’m being melodramatic? I don’t really give a shit. It was a beautiful moment that lifted the spirit of every person who had been hurting so much for the past twenty-four hours.
There was more to love about this game. Bronson Hill running like a beast, 23 carries for 258 yards. Most of those yards either came after contact or after making someone miss. Ike Spearman laid a huge third down hit to stop a Ohio drive and force a punt. Spearman was all over the field on defense. Yes, the team fell short on the scoreboard. But they won.
As the shock wears off over the next few days, those of us who follow the program will move on. But inside the locker room, and more importantly inside the hearts of all these guys, and the coaches, Demarius will be there. The hurt will subside, but it will be a companion that will walk with them their entire life. Yes, the memory of their friend will make them smile, will make them laugh. But it will also make them cry. The loss of their friend is a wound, and right now it is very raw and real. Eventually, it will leave a scar.
Seeing that scar will hurt because there will always be the life that wasn’t lived. Snuffed out for what? Another sad case of senseless violence. Another promising young African-American gunned down. I’ve seen enough of this world to know life isn’t fair, and I’ve lost loved ones who tragically died young. I’m so very sorry to Demarius’s parents and family, his girlfriend, his friends, his teammates and coaches.
I’m glad these guys got to play for each other today, for their fallen friend. There will be more than enough time for tears over the next few days, as they formally say goodbye to him, with each other, without the media or those who never got to know Demarius. But for three-and-a-half hours today, I’m proud to have witnessed their love for their friend play out in person, on the football field.
The rest of this football season is about healing. Wins and losses, records and statistics, those are just numbers. No one could have foreseen this tragedy, and I’m glad Ron English is there to help them through this.
As the weeks go on, things will transition back to normal. But let’s remember that a talented football player, a bright student, a son, a brother, a friend, is no longer with us.
I’m glad I got to watch him play, and I’m glad I got to watch this team today. You were inspiring. Great win guys.