In my final Penn football column, I expected to write about something related to the play on the field, my thoughts on the Penn-Princeton rivalry, or the Quakers' outlook for next season.
However, there are moments that transcend sports and rivalry. On the second half kickoff, in what seemed like a routine play, Penn senior running back Dante’ Moore collided with Princeton sophomore running back Trey Gray. What ensued afterward was not typical, though probably all too common in football. After the collision, I could hear a pop from the press area, located on the far side from the hit and 23 rows up. Gray’s body seemed to freeze mid-fall, and he laid motionless on the field for at least 10 minutes before being carted off in a stretcher.
I’ve watched football my whole life and have seen terrible injuries replayed on television. However, in all my years playing and watching sports, I had never seen anything like what happened to Gray in real time. In the moment, there were no updates on his injury status, though it was later revealed in the postgame press conference that he suffered a “head-related injury” but will be fine long-term.
This column is not meant to discuss the dangers of football or rehash the debate about whether we, as a society, should allow kids to play football. What is important to convey is that in that moment, the one-possession game and the historic rivalry did not matter. Everyone was most concerned with whether Gray could move his extremities.
Even after play resumed, it was hard to really care about whether Penn football could mount a comeback or whether senior running back Karekin Brooks would surpass 1,000 rushing yards on the season, which he ultimately did. For all I knew, a peer who happens to be a student-athlete could be in the hospital with a life-altering injury.
Though watching him lay motionless was horrible to see, the worst moments often bring out the best in people. In a one-possession rivalry game, Penn coach Ray Priore stood with the trainers and members of Princeton’s coaching staff to check on the running back.
“I told Ray this, but what a classy guy to come over. I hope I would do the same thing in that situation,” Princeton coach Bob Surace said. “He is class personified. That’s why he’s had so much success as a coach. There is a healthy respect you have for the people on the other side. For Ray to do that just exemplified it.”
“In this world, you get a chance to meet a lot of fine young men, and [Trey] is a fine young man,” Priore said. “He was recruited here and came for a visit, so [his injury] touched everybody when he went down.”
Priore in his postgame address urged all reporters in attendance to say a prayer for Gray.
Unlike most columns I write, I am not pushing any particular takeaways or looking to state anything beyond the obvious. In the end, as much as I sometimes forget, as a collegiate sports reporter, most of the athletes I cover are my peers. Even watching revenue-driving Division I athletes from Duke basketball or Alabama football, I often forget that most of the players are my age or younger until something horrible happens. Moore, who made the hit on Gray, is my classmate. With this incident, it is important not to extend blame or contextualize the tragic hit beyond a typical football hit gone wrong.
Though Penn lost, 28-7, the most important happening surrounding the game is that Gray will be fine long-term and that both coaches and players from Penn and Princeton demonstrated extreme class and maturity throughout the ordeal.
MARC MARGOLIS is a College senior from Narberth, Pa. and a Senior Sports Reporter for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.