Change of Plans

I’ve never been one to make too many plans. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned—and I write this with all due respect to Face, B.A. and the rest of the A-Team—they rarely come together. It is much easier, and leads to a much lower disappointment : fun-surprises ratio, if you let life happen and deal with whatever comes at you with as much grace as possible.

But as a sports fan, I’m not sure I’ve fully grasped this concept. I still want the fairy tale ending. I enjoy unexpected surprises—after all, isn’t that what sports is about, a belief the impossible is possible and that anything, at any moment, can happen—as long as they don’t muck up the story. As a sports writer, and as the enlightened person I claimed to be in that first paragraph, I know this is a dangerous way of thinking. I should look at sports no differently than I look at life. But it’s hard.

And that has made the past month an especially difficult one.

Reason #1 For the past couple of years, I’ve written a lot about a young snowboarder named Kevin Pearce. Last year, in preview of the Winter X Games, I wrote that he had the potential to be better than Shaun White. A few weeks later, at Winter X, most of us were convinced he flat-out beat Shaun in the halfpipe. But the judges saw it differently. Kevin is one of those kids you meet for five minutes and fall in love with. The same is true of his family. I spent a few days with them at their home in Vermont for that story last year and haven’t stopped thinking about them since. I have a beautiful glass candle holder on my coffee table that was made by Kevin’s fabulously talented father, Simon Pearce, and their family Christmas card is hanging on my fridge. I’ve gotten to know Kevin pretty well in the past year, and have had a fun time writing about the tension between him and his group of Frends (No “I” in Frends!) and the unbeatable Shaun White. Leading up to the Vancouver Olympics in February, this was going to be the story. Of course Kevin was going to make the team.

Then, on Dec. 31, while I was in Long Beach for Pastrana’s New Year’s No Limits jump, I got word that Kevin was badly injured while practicing in the Park City halfpipe. He was attempting a double cork 1080—a trick I’ve written a lot about and feared would leave an injury trail in its wake this season—hit his head on the edge of the pipe near his eye and suffered a traumatic brain injury. It was the worst possible news. That is not how the story was supposed to go. It is not how this season was supposed to turn out. I thought someone might be injured, but I figured it would be a young kid going for broke to make the Olympic team. Not Kevin Pearce. And not this severely.

At Pastrana’s jump, and in the days that followed, Kevin and his recovery is all most of us thought about. As we rang in the New Year, we lifted our glasses to Kevin and sent him as much magic as we could conjur from afar. As I write this, a little more than a week after his accident, I am happy to report that he is improving every day. He’s still not fully conscious, or fully out of danger, and a full recovery will most certainly take a long time. But he’s on his way. Although I am excited and so, so happy every day when I receive a positive update, it is still hard, even as an outsider, to think about how drastically his plan has been altered.

Reason #2 Last week, the new issue of The Mag hit newsstands with my story previewing the BCS championship game. In it, I dissect the game-winning ways of McQBs Colt McCoy and Greg McElroy. I was already a McCoy fan, but after a couple long conversations with McElroy, I came away with a real appreciation for the Bama QB. He was a pleasure to interview. And he spoke with an authority I doubt I would have found had I interviewed him in the middle of the season. Still, it is no secret I have a soft spot for Colt McCoy. Besides writing a couple stories on him, I’ve watched him play for the past four years right along with the rest of College Football Nation and was as excited as any Longhorns fan to see what he had in store for his final game. This game was the reason he returned to Texas for his senior season. Forget a Heisman. He wanted to win a national title.

Before the game, I went against the grain and called Texas by 3. I thought Bama would make mistakes (they did) and Texas would rally around their senior QB (they almost did). I had a feeling. And, let’s be honest, a Texas win was the better story. The fairy tale ending.

We all know what happened next. Fifth play of the game, McCoy was knocked out of the biggest game of his life by a shoulder injury. A pinched nerve that rendered his right arm all but useless. That wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. A freshman QB with a total of 15 career completions wasn’t supposed to take his place. Texas wasn’t supposed to lose, or win, like that. That wasn’t the plan.

After the game, McCoy had a hard time speaking to the media. He couldn’t find the words to express the mix of emotions he was feeling. To his dad, he said, “I had em. I knew everything they were doing before they did it. I was fixin’ to complete every pass. Why’d this have to happen?” I know McCoy is devoutly religious and is probably still searching for greater meaning in what happened to him last night and an answer to that question: Why did this happen? Personally, I don’t think there is ever an answer to that question. There’s only a reaction.

And a change of plans.

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