As the year once again draws to a close, we find ourselves, as is natural, reflecting on those we have lost during the previous 12 months. This week, that reflection took a turn for college football fans particularly with the unexpected death of Mississippi State head football coach, Mike Leach.
Leach, 61, had been preparing his Bulldogs team to face Illinois in the ReliaQuest Bowl. He was a pioneer of the air raid offense. His eccentricities during press conferences left us scratching our heads and eventually shaking them and laughing about his comments.
One of the biggest personalities of the sport, Leach’s time at Texas Tech, Washington State and, most recently, Mississippi State revolutionized college football. The prolific passing we see throughout the Big 12, in the Pac-12 and many other programs across the country has its roots in schemes drawn up by Leach. It led to greater consideration for quarterbacks with huge arms and receivers with great speed — kind of like some folks near and dear to Ohio State.
Today, whatever we thought of Leach, the air raid, pirate ships, mascot battles or Halloween candy, the football world is collectively memorializing the coach who provided so much fodder for silly conversations and the basis for so many modern football offenses.
Over time, we’ve learned that tragedy also serves to unite us around a cause and, if not a cause, just in supporting one another for a moment. Sports is one of those avenues where even shared interest in a game can mean a greater bond when times are tough — and this year, there have surely been some tough times.
Just last week, famed soccer columnist Grant Wahl also passed away unexpectedly while covering the World Cup in Qatar. In a sporting event rife with controversy that united much of the world against the human rights violations of the host nation, Grant’s reporting served as a bastion of what is right. His death meant a pause, and unity, amid the hype and glamour surrounding the event to something that feels much more real and personal.
And just last month, three Virginia football players were murdered in another senseless mass shooting. And whatever programs we cheer for, we wept, because they were connected to this sport we all love; they are a part of us.
When Dwayne Haskins was killed in April, Ohio State felt that warm embrace of support from the anonymous, collective sports nation. For just a moment, we all feel the shock of these individuals passing, even if we don’t know them personally, and the rest of the world comforts us in that time of need.
There are many more individuals whose lives have impacted us — and whose absence we feel as the year draws to a close. In this world where we are so frequently divided, let’s recognize these moments when we can unite. Let’s remember the good times. For just a moment, let’s all feel the same feelings. And let’s vow, wherever possible, to try to make things better.
And maybe, in honor of Mike Leach, have some gummy bears and wave that pirate flag.