The first Maryland football game we attended was a non-conference match-up against Akron back in 2002. The gross imbalance in the size of the players on the two squads commanded all of our attention; the violence was asymmetrical, not an athletic contest so much as an exercise in brutality. That game dulled our enjoyment of college football for some time.
Last year, the DeMatha-Gonzaga football game matched two high school teams of similar size and skill. One team did not bludgeon a helpless opponent. But our belief that the disquieting violence of the Maryland-Akron match was due to one team being substantially weaker than the other disappeared. Standing on the sidelines close to the action, we could feel the concussive blows delivered by teenage wrecking balls.
American football loses its luster; when Devin Thomas walks away from $700,000 in salary from the Chicago Bears citing, in part, concerns about long-term health, the "we don't want anyone not fully committed" line from Lovie falls flat while the absence of any reference to Thomas's welfare concerns on the official web-site is a damning indictment of the NFL's ability to grapple with this new reality.
American football won't be the only sport under strict public scrutiny for very long.
Last night, a ball pops loose in the goal box in front of Bill Hamid. All 6'4" of Emiliano Dudar jumped back towards goal authoritatively to clear the ball back over the bar, willing to concede the corner kick to bring order to chaos. Innocuous enough play, except all 5'10" of Daniel Woolard went to clear the free ball the opposite direction and met Dudar's head instead.
We love Woolard. We love everything that Woolard stands for in terms of perseverance and commitment. Didn't get a single DI scholarship offer to play soccer. Played in Division II for Midwestern State University. Worked hard enough, played well enough to be a MLS supplemental draft pick in 2007. Four years ago, Daniel (and Stephen King) earned $17,700 as professional soccer players for the Chicago Fire -- on a team where Cuauhtemoc Blanco pocketed $2.5 million to play the same game for the same team.
Woolard's not exactly swimming in cash now with D.C. United -- he's one of the lowest paid players on the squad, with a lower salary than King's ($56,250). And to get to this point, Woolard had to overcome being cut loose by the Fire and going back to play in the PDL where he suffered a concussion with debilitating after-effects.
We know Woolard's story. It is a huge part of why we enjoy watching the man play soccer in a DCU shirt.
So that is in our heads when Bill Hamid is trying to organize the defense in advance of the corner kick. And then Hamid is frantically screaming at Woolard -- standing fifteen yards out near the noisy side -- to get into the box and Daniel's not responding. One of his teammates runs out to see what's going on; a moment later the players on the pitch are even more frantically signalling to the sideline that help is needed and a sub must be prepped.
The image that will stick with me is of Woolard's eyes as he was escorted into the locker room -- although somewhat vacant, they evinced both fear and anger.
Maybe there will be good news in the coming days and that would put our minds somewhat at ease. What we saw (from the stands) was horror.
There are worse things. One of the things we look forward to at MLS games is catching up with college players that we got to see at Ludwig. Last night, it meant seeing Justin Meram (Michigan) and Ethan Finlay (Creighton) again. We didn't get to see Maryland's ACC-rivals on the Crwe, Cole Grossman (Duke) or Kirk Urso (UNC). We won't be able to see Urso play ever again.
Rest in peace.