I was really excited when the college preseason edition of Sports Illustrated arrived in my mailbox last week, even if it did have an Alabama Crimson Tide player on the cover. (Please, if you're one of my friends who "hate when I write about 'ball'," keep reading. This ain't about ball. Not really.)
My excitement was tempered, somewhat, when I realized that SI had only ranked Georgia ninth in the nation -- a mere 11 spots ahead of our neighbors down the road on North Avenue.
But then I thumbed through the magazine and found a story that wasn't about "ball," at all. Not really. It was a story about courage and friendship and love and about the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. I'll take that over a top five ranking any day.
The SI story featured three of Georgia's own -- Zach Cone, Johnathan Taylor and Chance Veazey, -- all former members of the UGA baseball team. Veazey had his career cut short when he was involved in an accident on his Yamaha scooter that left him paralyzed from the neck down. His spinal cord was severed at the 10th thoracic vertebra in his back.
Ironically, the following spring, Johnathan Taylor -- JT to everyone who has ever been within 100 yards of his glowing smile -- suffered a similar injury when he collided in the outfield with Cone, his best friend.
Now JT and Chance Veazey are doing a remarkable job of getting on with their respective lives, without bitterness or remorse or dwelling on what might have been. Both are shining examples to the rest of humanity about how to deal with adversity. Both owe a great deal of credit for their physical stamina, and perhaps their mental outlooks, to the good folks at Shepherd Spinal Center, in Atlanta, which is recognized as one of the very best rehabilitation centers in the world for people who have suffered spinal cord or brain injury.
Stay tuned for the rest of the story -- and my apologies to Paul Harvey.
While I was still reflecting on the article and the obstacles that these young men still face, I got a message from an old college buddy, Darryl Jones. He is a good guy, even if he can't spell his own first name correctly. I had lost touch with him for years, but we were reunited this summer when I did a speaking engagement at the Emerald Coast Bulldog Club in Panama City. Darryl's son, John, has been involved in an event -- related to Chance and JT -- and not enough folks know about it.
I called John and he hooked me up with the event's spokesman, former UGA running back Wes Van Dyk, and I got chill bumps just listening to Wes. Here is what is going to happen.
Next Friday morning, the last day of August, at about 10 a.m., Hugh Nall, of Georgia's 1980 National Championship football team, is going to hike the game ball for Georgia's season opener to Buck Belue -- at the Shepherd Spinal Center. That snap is going to set off the darndest play from scrimmage since Appleby-to-Washington.
The ball is going to be relayed all around the Shepherd Spinal Center for the next two hours, handled primarily by a multitude of members of that same 1980 team. Then a host of Georgia lettermen are going to take that ball all over Atlanta -- through Centennial Olympic Park, past the Fox Theatre and the Capitol, maybe even to the Braves game. I know that Chance Veazey is throwing out the first pitch at The Ted that Friday night. Around midnight, they will hand off the ball to the UGA ROTC and they will be entrusted to use human power -- that means walking and running -- to transport the ball through Stone Mountain, Snellville, Loganville, Monroe -- right down U.S. Highway 78 to Athens. That's where the fun really begins.
The last mile of the Game Ball Relay will begin at the UGA track, and the Red Zone Warriors -- folks who have made a $100 donation to the Shepherd Center -- will tailgate like only Georgia Bulldogs can tailgate and then carry the ball, in a moving block party, right down Lumpkin Street and into Sanford Stadium, and hand it off to the immortal Charlie Trippi around midfield. Trippi will transfer it to Mark Richt just in time for Coach Richt to hand it to the officials for kickoff.
If you are in the area -- any of these areas -- come out and show your support for the folks who are trying to make a difference in so many people's lives. It ought to be a great show and I know it is for a great cause. If you have ever met Chance or JT, you know how lives are being changed for the better at Shepherd.
As Chance said in the Sports Illustrated article, "The only difference between you and me? You're walking, I'm rolling. I'm still blessed with a wonderful life."
Intestinal fortitude like that deserves to be celebrated. Hats off to the Game Ball Relay and the Red Zone Warriors.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.