Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Tale of Two Players

There is no doubt that this has been one heck of a tough season for my UT Vols on the gridiron. But there's tough, and then there's tough...

It turns out that Jason Mitchell, the starting weakside linebacker for the Vols, has been playing the season with a torn ACL in his left knee. Yes, that's right - a torn ACL to go with his sprained MCL. Mitchell will run through the "T" for the final time this Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium before flying to California for surgery. That surgery will end his college career and, more than likely, his complete football career. Because Mitchell has waited until the end of the season for the surgery, he will miss the NFL Combine and individual team workouts, for the most part ending his NFL career before it even gets started.

Why would someone do this - playing through the pain and risking further injury, all the while killing their chance of playing in the pros? Mitchell answers that question with the following:

"My love for the game. My love for my teammates. I didn't want to leave the way I left. I didn't want to leave on somebody else's terms. I wanted to leave when I felt I was ready. I wasn't ready to fold up the tent my senior year, even though it could have hurt me in the long run, which it probably might. I just enjoyed the time and loved it. My love for the game, my love for my teammates, my love for playing for the University of Tennessee kept me still playing."

I love that kind of passion, that love for the game. You don't see it in many players at the pro level, that's for sure. I still remember Mike Piazza's statements during the baseball strike of 1994, when he said that he didn't understand how people could play for the love of the game (in reference to the possibility of "scab" players crossing the picket line). That's why I lustfully boo Piazza to this day. Mitchell, with all of that passion for the game of college football, knows that this week will be tough:

"It's actually very emotional, because every day you just know it's your last days practicing, the last time even hanging around with the guys. There are times I catch myself getting all emotional about the situation, because I made sure I pushed myself hard enough to play in this game. So this will be the last time I run through the 'T,' the last time I get acknowledged, the last time everybody gets to see me, the last time I get to practice. All that stuff meant a lot to me. Just playing. Being that this is the end, it's kind of scary, but I know it's time for me to move on with the next chapter of my life. I'm still just not ready to accept it."

I'll cheer for all of the Vols running through the "T" for the last time this weekend. I'll cheer for Doug Atkins as his number is retired in a pre-game ceremony. But, God, I can't wait to cheer for Jason Mitchell Saturday.

Then, on the other hand, there is DeAngelo Williams, the Memphis running back that (depending upon whose version of the story you believe) refused to play against a vaunted UT defense this past Saturday. The Tigers needed Williams in that game, a game they by all accounts could have won with their best player on the field. But Williams remained on the sideline. Was he really hurt with a sprained ankle suffered two weeks prior? Unlikely, given his 167 yards against UAB the week prior to facing UT. Was he protecting himself from an injury? Was he afraid that a poor performance against the swarming UT defense would hurt his draft status with 8 NFL scouts in attendance? We'll never know.

One thing's for sure, though - DeAngelo Williams ain't no Jason Mitchell. Not by a long shot.

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