My wife doesn't like watching sports. I've tried to explain to her that what makes a game especially interesting to me isn't what's happening on the field, but what's going on in the lives of certain key players.
So a football game, say, isn't just a bunch of guys running around bashing each other. It can also be a drama of sorts if you follow the teams closely enough to understand the main characters.
Yesterday's game between Oregon and Utah was a great example of this. Sure, I was pleased that Oregon pulled out a 20-17 victory. But it was how the win came about that made it so compelling and satisfying for me.
The hero of the drama was Oregon quarterback Bo Nix. He'd gotten injured the week before in a disappointing loss to Washington. Details of the injury were lacking. Something to do with his leg or foot.
It was unclear whether Nix would be able to play in the Utah game -- an important game, since the winner would have a clear path toward playing in the Pac 12 championship, which likely would mean a Rose Bowl berth.
As soon as I stared watching the game it was clear that while Nix was the starting Oregon quarterback, he wasn't his usual self. Unable to run at all well, Nix was limited to either handing the ball off or standing almost stationary as he looked for a receiver on a pass play.
The announcers said that Nix looked like he was at about 50%. He couldn't plant himself on his injured right foot, which made it tough to pass with his usual accuracy. Still, Nix led the Ducks on several scoring drives and they ended the first half leading 17-3.
I recall the announcers saying that if Oregon ended up winning the game, Nix's gritty performance while injured would go down as one of the best of any quarterback this season, maybe even deserving Heisman Trophy consideration.
Watching Nix hobble around on a cold night in Eugene, keeping Oregon ahead as Utah staged a strong second half comeback, I found myself rooting for him to tough out a win in part because he was showing how someone can have an injury, or health problem (physical or mental), and perform their duties well in the face of that adversity.
Sports writer John Canzano said it well in a post-game column emailed to his readers, of whom I'm one. Some excerpts:
I don’t know if you saw Bo Nix play football on Saturday night. The University of Oregon quarterback wasn’t his typical, mobile self. He rushed for -3 yards, in fact.
On one play, UO offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham sent Nix in motion out of the backfield.
The Autzen Stadium crowd watched.
Nix was a decoy. The plan was to snap the ball to a running back. But as the quarterback with an injured foot trotted in motion toward the sideline, Utah’s defenders didn’t move. They turned their heads and watched like the rest of us.
Nix looked like guy making his way across an icy crosswalk on a cold winter night. I half expected a Boy Scout might run on the field and help him across the formation.
It was Oregon 20, Utah 17 on Saturday night. Nix was gutsy, playing with one bad wheel. He threw for 287 yards, a touchdown and one interception.
...We’ve seen a lot of great things from quarterbacks over the years at the University of Oregon.
Justin Herbert, throwing missiles.
Marcus Mariota, slipping linebackers.
What we hadn’t ever seen was Ducks’ quarterback pretty much stand stationary for four quarters, throwing darts around the field. Then, late in the fourth quarter, needing to ice the game, Nix faked a hand off, ran, and dove two yards for a first down.
Said Lanning: “We asked Bo right before that play if we could run the play knowing that the two options were to hand it off or for him to keep it and he said ‘absolutely.’ That guy’s got heart.”
...We’re all in a struggle against our limitations. That’s life, isn’t it? The Ducks were resilient on Saturday. We watched Oregon stumble around the field, exploring the edges of those limits. Nix’s performance wasn’t smooth and easy. It was gritty and authentic. It was essentially a wince. I suppose that’s why I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
Beautifully said. Being 74, with several annoying health problems that limit me somewhat, I resonate with what Canzano said: We’re all in a struggle against our limitations. That’s life, isn’t it?
After being able to easily run around a track, sometimes we reach a point where diving two yards is all we can do. But then we can get up, maybe with the help of a friend, and dive two more yards. Metaphorically speaking, I mean.
Thus when we see someone like Nix do so well in his own struggle, that encourages the rest of us. Yesterday I felt like I wasn't watching just a football game. I was watching life play out on a football field.