December 7, 2006

Prep For Saturday Night

I'm normally not much for sentimental "human interest" stories about sports stars or other celebrities, even as I recognize how some of them have truly overcome disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve success in sports or business or entertainment. Maybe it's because such stories have become so common as to be cliché. Or maybe it's because in many cases, the only things the person seems to have overcome are his own bad decisions or self-indulgences, which are interpreted by media people as having been dealt a bad hand by life's dealer.

And then there are stories like Troy Smith's.

You can't have followed Smith's college football career like I have, and not know that he had a tough childhood, and that he was taken under the wing of Ted Ginn Sr., his high school coach, as father figure, mentor and friend. But I didn't know a lot of detail about his background.

Having grown up on the east side of Cleveland myself, just up Cedar Hill from the fields at E. 112th and St. Clair where Smith played football as a kid, and blessed to have had a family life as idyllic as his was dysfunctional, I have a certain emotional attachment to him that I know not everyone can share. And yes, I'm a little bit of a nutcase about Ohio State football too, truth be told.

I guess all that's why Pat Forde's "human interest" story on Smith had me in tears. It starts this way:

The little boy clutched the present for his mom on a snowy Christmas Eve. Around the Cleveland neighborhood they looked for her, the 9-year-old and the man who had given the boy a home.

They walked though the snow and knocked on doors, asking where she could be. House after house, door after door. Nobody knew.

The boy never found his mother on that Dickensian Christmas Eve more than a decade ago. Never got a chance to give her the watch he'd bought from the mall with his foster father's money.

And so the crestfallen boy gave the watch to his foster mother instead, for his real mother was lost to him. Lost in personal troubles so deep and dark that her two children were taken from her and placed in the care of others.

For the 9-year-old, it was an achingly empty December moment. And, wherever she was, it certainly was an empty time for his mom.

They will experience a drastically different December moment this Saturday night, the boy and the mom. A moment of triumph. Thanks to the boy's powers of forgiveness and compassion, and the mother's will to salvage a life gone astray, they will experience that triumphal moment together.

Troy Smith, the little boy who could not find his mother one Christmas Eve, will win the Heisman Trophy. Tracy Smith, the former lost soul, will be there to see it.

Do read it all. It will help you savor the moment this Saturday when Troy Smith is recognized by the nation as the best player in college football for 2006. And bring a hankie.

UPDATE: The Troy Smith lovefest begins tonight, as Smith is named the winner of the Walter Camp Award, a trophy presented to "the nations top overall player", and also the Davey O'Brien Award, given to the nations outstanding quarterback.

Posted by dan at December 7, 2006 6:01 PM