East-West Shrine Game is about much more than football
UCF's Bruce Miller: "There's a bigger meaning."
January 20, 2011|By Mike Bianchi, SPORTS COMMENTARY
Stephen M. Dowell, Orlando Sentinel
Never even thought about it as anything except a college football all-star game that has been played every year seemingly since the beginning of time.
In the mind's eye, the East-West Shrine Game was always that star-studded, post-holiday classic played in some exotic, faraway locale sponsored by a bunch of men wearing funny hats.
But with the game being played at the Citrus Bowl on Saturday, we should all recognize that those Shriners are more about good deeds than funny fezzes. And the East-West Shrine Game is much more than a chance for college football stars to improve their NFL draft status; it's a chance for them to improve the life status of a bunch of sick kids.
"Strong legs run so that weak legs can walk," says George Mitchell, the Imperial Potentate (head honcho) of Shriners International. "Everything we do is geared toward helping the Shriners Hospital for Children."
If ever there were a sporting event for our city to get behind, this is the one. Is there really a better cause than a network of 22 hospitals that offer quality care for kids who are burn victims or have suffered spinal cord injuries or are born with birth defects? These are hospitals that serve thousands of kids worldwide whether their families are able to pay or not.
Kids like 13-year-old Danny Happy, who four years ago had his life altered forever. On July 10, 2007, a private plane shockingly fell from the sky and landed in Danny's home in Sanford. His 4-year-old sister Gabriela died and Danny was burned over 95 percent of his body. Nobody expected him to survive.
He was airlifted to the burn unit at the Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati, where he was put into a medically induced coma so that he wouldn't die from the excruciating pain he was in. Nearly 50 surgeries later, he is a living, breathing testament to the medical miracles that are done by the Shriners.
There will be players in Saturday's game from UCF (defensive end Bruce Miller and offensive tackle Jah Reid), Florida (defensive end Justin Trattou) and Miami (cornerback Demarcus Van Dyke and running back Graig Cooper). If you're a Knight, a Gator or a Hurricane, why not come out to the Citrus Bowl Saturday and support your team? If you're a college football fan, why not come out and watch some of the best players in the nation? Or if you just want to watch a good game and support a good cause, kickoff is 4 p.m.
Too often in these pages, we portray college football as a corrupt sport filled with liars, cheaters and BCS commissioners who have cornered the market on greed. We get inundated with the clanging and clamoring of message board malcontents, bad-tempered bloggers and FireTheCoach.com websites. So seldom do we get to hear the true song of the sport anymore.
Like the sound of Larry Csonka, the Miami Dolphins Hall of Famer who played in the East-West Shrine Game decades ago. He was on TV the other day talking about the game and said something that might surprise you. He said he didn't remember much about the Shrine Game he played in all those years ago. He didn't remember the score or even who won. But what he did remember was the trip he and other players took to the Shriners Hospital.
It's the same story every player who plays in this game will tell you. Every year during Shrine Game week, the players are asked to visit one of the nearby Shriners Hospitals. On Sunday, the players in this year's game were bused over to Tampa to visit the kids.
"There's a bigger meaning to this game," says UCF"s Bruce Miller. "It means a lot more when you're playing for something like this. We're not just out there for ourselves to raise our NFL stock; we're out there raising money for kids who are fighting and battling and struggling with some serious medical issues.
"Visiting these kids in the hospital is one of the most worthwhile things I've ever done. It's great to put a smile on these kids' faces. And you know what? They'll put a smile on your face, too."
If you think Shriners are merely a bunch a crazy guys who wear funny hats and ride miniature motorcycles in parades, think again.
Turns out the men underneath those funny fezzes do some serious good.
Those undersized motorcycles pale in comparison to their oversized hearts.
About the Shrine Game
What: East-West Shrine Game
Where: Citrus Bowl
Kickoff: 4 p.m.
Tickets: $5-$50, available on ticketmaster.com