Dave Torromeo–October 2015

Brandon Steiner the noted memorabilia guru posted on Facebook recently that Football should probably be done away with as a sport: “At what point do we start seriously re-considering whether we let people we know and love play football? Tragic news out of New Jersey this week with the death of the Warren Hills quarterback Evan Murray. The bottom line is that this sport is dangerous; too dangerous. Something needs to be done. Is there a fix for this game so that so many people don’t risk the injuries (sic) the concussions, the spinal injuries, etc.? Do you want your son to play football?” Brandon Steiner Facebook post

I could not disagree more and to answer his question, yes, I do. In fact, I wish he were playing right now—so does he. There is no greater team sport than football. I don’t say this as a son of a coach/official, or as a former player who was on a championship team, or as the former Vice President of the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame. I say it as the father of an injured football player. My son (Jarrett/JT) broke his foot two weeks before he was to start at cornerback for one of the best football programs in the northeast (New Canaan, CT). He has a broken foot suffered in a scrimmage, had surgery and now has two screws in his foot and will miss his coveted senior season.

I don’t know if Brandon has ever played the game, my strong suspicion is that he has not. Nothing against Brandon, but being a collector hardly makes you an expert on sports, and especially a sport you have never played. Football is under attack—and yes, some of the injuries are hard to stomach. If a replay of Joe Theismann’s injury is being aired, I’m changing the channel and fast!

The outpouring of support for JT from his coaches, teammates–past and present, all helped him (and his family) through this time. His teammates showed up at the house the day after his surgery bringing him dinner and uplifting his spirits. The Connecticut Gatorade player of the year last year, Zach Allen, a teammate and freshman at Boston College, took time to send a text hours before he was taking the field against Florida State. It’s the very game of football that has taught my son to react the way he has—with class and dignity.

While I never played beyond some college ball, (and truth be told the most fun I had in college was playing on a championship intramural team) my glory days were most definitely in high school and I have long outgrown the “football hero” mentality. However, I’ll put my football IQ up against his or anybody’s having been associated the game since I could walk watching my dad (who played for the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg at Susquehanna University) coaching and officiating games. (But heck, I’m a Jets fan, so how much of an expert can I be?)

Let me try to explain why I feel this way about football–but first, let’s get this out front and center: Football is a contact sport. Football is a sport that is physical in nature and therefore injuries are a part of the game. Players are expected to play through certain injuries—playing hurt and being injured are very different things to football players and coaches. Some players suffer season ending injuries or even career ending injuries. I lost a chunk of my junior year to a knee injury and learned life lessons. I don’t live vicariously through my son…I had my time and I never forced him to play the game; in fact when he wanted to play in third grade I encouraged him to start with the flag program. I still think that was a solid idea; start playing without the physical aspect, but he wanted the full deal. I said to my wife this might not last long—it lasted ten years.

What happened to the young man in New Jersey was clearly freakish, and just a heartbreaking tragedy. According to the Associate Press: “A high school football hero was killed last weekend by a *freak on-field injury. An autopsy found that his spleen was abnormally enlarged, leaving Murray susceptible to this type of injury. The cause of death was massive internal hemorrhaging from a lacerated spleen.” (*the italics and bold are mine)

Devastating–absolutely no doubt about it. I am not sure if this can be “discovered” and perhaps Evan kept from playing the game. Regardless, may this young man rest in peace and prayers go out for his family, teammates and friends.

Of course head injuries and concussions are the raging talk of the day. The game has changed so much, from when I played. The equipment has gotten much better and tackling has been “re-defined.” The protocols for determining concussions have taken away the old mantra that, “you just had your bell rung, get back in there.” There is an emphasis on all levels on better tackling and protecting players. Football is scrutinized so many ways. Many colleges have dropped football recently, not so much due to injuries, but because of things like Title IX. I had the privilege of working for the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, Inc. and can tell you that there are so many tremendous young men (STUDENT/athletes) across this nation at both the high school and all college levels and many fine coaches who are teaching young men true life lessons, that it would be a tragedy to take this invaluable experience away from them! Out of well over 1 million high school football players a grand total of 300 will play in the NFL…so it is imperative to note that this is an extended piece of their education.

I’m not sure if you get the same connection with your teammates if you’re, say, a cross country runner–don’t take that the wrong way, it’s not that I’m against cross country–it’s an “individualistic” sport that I could never have done. But football teaches so much in terms of working in unison, depending on your teammates, lifting each other up, celebrating with each other and being there for each other through disappointments. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that my wife and I landed in a football crazy town like New Canaan 25 years ago, although we did not know it at that time.

I’m glad that our son played football, even if he never steps on the field again as a player. Despite my background and experiences, I never ever forced him to play; it was always his decision year-over-year. One of the hardest days in both of our lives was recently when the doctor walked in and told him his season was over. JT worked his ass off to earn a starting position and I don’t know many 17 year olds who get themselves up regularly at 6AM in the summer for weight lifting and other workouts. I attribute this discipline to the game.

Football gave me stability, discipline and an instantaneous “network” through what could have been a very difficult time of my life. It has taught me life skills, how to deal with adversity and being a team player. Football helped me acclimate when we moved my sophomore year in high school to a small town where nobody knew me, but everybody knew who my father was (Superintendent of Schools). That year we moved from Long Island, NY to a slower paced, smaller town in Westerly, RI. Our 9th grade Lindenhurst team was undefeated and I was proud having played safety and sharing the QB duties with a fellow who went on to break all of the passing records at Columbia University, play in the NFL and NFL Europe (John Witkowski–I jokingly make this my “claim to fame”). It was hard leaving that team and going to a place where people might know me only as: “the Superintendents son” if it were not for playing football. John and several players from that team still keep in touch.

Football gave me an instant connection with teammates in Westerly that summer and many remain close friends to this day. I remember the Westerly players that first summer telling me about this Thanksgiving Day game they played, and that, “over 10,000 people came to the game,” and I remember thinking, “yeah, right.” We didn’t have Thanksgiving Day football on Long Island, but I remember watching the Iona Prep vs. New Rochelle game on Channel 11 on Thanksgiving mornings and marveling about how cool that game was. Sure enough, almost every person in the towns of Westerly, RI and Stonington, CT were at those three games I played in and it was my absolute honor to be a part of them. How many high school kids can say they played in a game, which is the oldest Thanksgiving Day game in the country? (It is a heated rival, and I am also happy to note that we never lost to the Stonington Bears, although I did happen to marry one of the Bears cheerleaders…25 years and still going strong–Go Bulldogs!)

I attribute much of my success, going on to a long career in sports, earning an advanced degree and now helping others achieve similar goals to having played the game of football. One of the things I tell young people…”Employers love hiring individuals who played a team sport.” In my humble opinion, there is no greater team sport than football!

“…And in truth, I’ve never known a man worth his salt who in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn’t appreciate the grind, the discipline. There is something in good men that really yearns for discipline and the harsh reality of head to head combat. I don’t say these things because I believe in the ‘brute’ nature of men or that men must be brutalized to be combative. I believe in God, and I believe in human decency. But I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour — his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear — is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.” – Coach Vincent T. Lombardi #1 speech

Go… New Canaan Rams, Lindy Bulldogs, Westerly Bulldogs, Rhody Rams & NY Jets!

Below l to r…

  1. Amos Alonzo Stagg on the cover of Time….
  2.  #84 DOES NOT GET THE SACK ON ME HERE AS MY WIFE SEEMS TO THINK! Westerly, RI vs. Stonington CT–Thanksgiving Day game
  3. John Witkowski at Columbia
  4. Westerly vs. Stonington at Westerly Thanksgiving morning
  5. JT on crutches

aastaggtimemag IMG_1316 untitled (2) untitled2 jt crutches

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