Numbers Beyond Sports and the Tragic Death of Odin Lloyd

We immerse ourselves in sports for many reasons. For the sports fan, it’s far more than entertainment; it’s an all encompassing passion that has us cheering unconditionally for our favorite teams regardless of the circumstances. We spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars on merchandise and we do whatever we can to make ourselves a part of the team. That passion also has us checking various sports-related websites before we’re even fully awake in the morning. We have alerts set on our cellphones so we know exactly when news has broke. We compare the heroes of today with those of the past and we debate endlessly with each other over what the future will bring.

Odin Lloyd

There is one part of sports where we can’t fall on different sides of the argument though–numbers. Numbers occur and are hard to debate. (Aided by performance enhancements or not) Barry Bonds hit 763 homeruns. The Miami Heat won their second-consecutive NBA Championship with a 4-3 series victory over the San Antonio Spurs. Whether you agree with the way participants in the title games are chosen or not, the Florida Gators football program has won three National Championships. Those numbers happened. We witnessed them and there’s no way to erase them. Even when we attempt to delete them due to sanctions handed down, we know they really occurred.

As Aaron Hernandez’s story continues to be written there are many numbers that will be focused on. One of those might be 11. In the fourth quarter of the 2013 AFC Championship game, New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady completed a pass to Hernandez. The former University of Florida star tight end gained 11 yards. Those 11 yards may turn out to be the last yards he ever gains in the NFL. That number and others will be discussed. The career that could have come and the statistics he could have achieved will be debated. Many will wonder what could have become of Aaron Hernandez the football player. Few will focus on one of the most important and saddening number of the entire story–27.

I started dating the woman who would become my wife when I was 27. In the seven years since then, we bought our first house together, got engaged, got married, and–almost one year ago–brought our amazing son into the world. Saying the last seven years have been the best years of my life is not an overstatement. I’ve lived more in those seven years than I had before and look forward to what the next seven will bring. Odin Lloyd won’t get those seven years. He was 27 years old when he was murdered. He won’t get those seven years. He won’t even get one more.

Life is fragile. We can barely make it through a week without hearing how one was cut short needlessly. Tragically, when that story also involves someone as high profile as an athlete or celebrity or other well-known personality, we hear too much about that person and not the victim. If we didn’t already know the victim, we may never truly discover who they were. Odin Lloyd’s tragedy will be well-documented, but not always from the right angle. The story will be sensationalized to focus on Aaron Hernandez’s role. From time to time, a piece will pop up that will make us think more about Lloyd and what could have become of the 27-year-old semi-professional football player–like this one–but those pieces will be few and far between. We may never learn much about the 27 years Lloyd spent in this world, but we’ll surely be presented with a detailed account of Hernandez’s remaining years.

At 27, you’re still figuring out what to do with your life. At least I was. When I turned 27, I enjoyed many things about my life. What I didn’t know was how much more I would enjoy the future. I was naive in thinking it would only get better, but at the same time I was somewhat of a prophet because it has. We’ll never know what the future would have brought for Lloyd. Maybe happiness. Maybe despair. To steal a line, it could have been the best of times or the worst of times. Or, probably more accurately, it could have been both.

A few short months after I married the love of my life, I lost my mother. My mother, teacher and best friend passed away on November 27, 2009. There’s that number again–27. She encouraged my obsession with sports from an early age. She put up with a son that read her box scores and statistics that she never wanted to know. Her life was cut short after an eight-month battle with Leukemia. It wasn’t fair then and it isn’t fair now. That number–27–sticks out to me and always will because of the day that I lost her. There was no November 28 for my mother. There is no 28th birthday for Odin Lloyd.

We’ll always remember Aaron Hernandez. That was already a certainty for Florida Gators’ fans. Now it’s a certainty for all sports fans and even those outside of that realm. We’ll know him like people across the world know O.J. Simpson. Whether he is guilty or innocent, we’ll remember this one instance over all others in the life of Aaron Hernandez. But will we remember Odin Lloyd?

I hope we will. I hope that months from now, years from now we talk of a life that could have been. I hope we wonder what the next seven years would have brought Lloyd. I hope we think of his family and friends. I hope the tragic loss of life at a young age is what we remember. I hope we won’t forget what we often do–that there are victims as well as killers. I hope for all of this just like Odin Lloyd hoped for a better life, or at the very least more life. Lloyd’s hopes have ended; there is no tomorrow for him. But we can choose to remember him and what he may have hoped for. We can think about the 27 years he was given and dream about what he would have done with those that were taken away.

The State of the Swamp – 6/11/13

A look at the past week in the land of the Florida Gators.

The State of the Swamp is a day late and it looks like that was a good thing. Sometimes the star align and missing a (self-imposed) deadline works out. There is big news sweeping the sports world and Gator Nation and it focuses on no one other than Tim Tebow.

Tim Tebow - New England Patriots

Tebow has signed a two-year deal with the New England Patriots. The former Florida star will get another shot at the NFL, and with one of the league’s top franchises. Only one week after we were led to believe Tebow’s NFL career may have come to an end, it’s been given a jumpstart by Bill Belichick and the Pats. Tebow has a great chance to make the roster, though at what position remains to be seen. There is something about his drive and determination that made three NFL seasons seem like too few. Tebow may never make it as a full-time quarterback in the league, but Belichick and New England will give him the opportunity to play the game at the highest level again. There will be those in favor of this and, as always with Tebow, there will be detractors, but there will be no end to Tebowmania. (At least not anytime soon.)

J.C. Jackson makes the right choice, commits to Florida. After deciding that Florida State wasn’t the right fit, Jackson–a cornerback out of Immokalee, FL (Immokalee)–flipped to the Gators. ($) Florida was always on the top of Jackson’s list, but his train was derailed temporarily. He has now made the decision he was expected to make all along. The Gators’ pursuit of Jackson and the fact that Florida plays in the SEC were deciding factors for the CB. (And why wouldn’t they be?) He maintains that this latest commitment is solid, but we’ll rest easy come National Signing Day. Not that I’m no confident in his commitment, but…well…recruiting…

Add another to the list; Taven Bryan is the latest Gator. Florida went much farther than Immokalee to nab their latest commitment. On Tuesday, Bryan–an offensive tackle from Casper, WY (Natrona County)–was added to the 2014 class. At 6’5″, 250 lbs., Bryan has the height to play on the line at the next level, but needs to add a good deal of bulk. At 250, SEC defensive lines will eat him up. At 350, he could be a valuable asset in the nation’s top conference. Bryan has plenty of offers from out west, but decided to make the trek to Gainesville. And I can’t really blame him.

Keep an eye on Adoree’ Jackson. He won’t make his decision known until National Signing day, but keep an eye on one of the nation’s top athletes. Jackson is another cornerback very interested in the Gators’ football program ($) and also Florida’s recent men’s track and field outdoor championship. He would like to compete in both at the college level and Florida’s success with both programs is a plus. There are plenty of others hoping to land the star, but the Gators are among the few that stand a real chance. Jackson wants to visit Florida for the Gators’ final regular season game against Florida State.

Scottie Wilbekin suspended, again. The Gators’ point guard has violated team rules again and has subsequently been suspended again. Wilbekin missed the first three games of the 2012-13 season due to a suspension, meaning this one could see him out for more time. Billy Donovan can’t be happy with the PG and fans aren’t either, although many think this might mean a clearer path to playing time for super recruit Kasey Hill.

With the 20th pick in the 2013 MLB Draft the Detroit Tigers select junior pitcher Jonathon Crawford. Not expected to return for his senior season, Crawford’s fate was sealed when the Tigers drafted him in the first round. In other news, the Boston Red Sox drafted Gators’ starting quarterback Jeff Driskel in the 29th round. While Crawford is leaving, I’m guessing Driskel will remain in Gainesville for a while longer.

The men’s track and field squad wins the NCAA Outdoor Championship. Mentioned ever so briefly above, I have to give a round of applause to the men’s track team for bringing home the trophy for the second year in a row. Good job gentlemen. Go Gators!

Jeff Demps Signs With New England Patriots

The trend of Bill Belichick picking up Florida Gators is continuing Friday. Jeff Demps – the Gators’ former speedster – decided to sign with the Patriots after much interest in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Demps will join his former teammates Jermaine Cunningham, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Spikes in New England. The Patriots look to be Super Bowl contenders again after losing to the New York Giants last year. Demps should be used in many ways by the offensive mastermind that is Belichick and his speed will fit well on an already quick roster.

It’s unlikely that Demps has been chosen to replace Wes Welker at the slot position obviously because of the wide skill gap, but Demps should play some roles in the receiving game.

Bill Belichick should find some ways to use Demps that we never had imagined, and it will be interesting to watch Demps in his transition back from track to football.

Former Florida Gators To Play On World’s Grandest Stage

The world will be captivated by tonight’s Super Bowl matchup between the New England Patriots and New York Giants. Sure to be one of the most widely viewed events across the planet, the Pats and Giants will do battle to determine which team will go home with the Lombardi Trophy. It’s a dream come true for many players to even be able to participate in the Super Bowl, but to win one is something completely different. Among those searching for a ring will be a few former Florida Gators.

In 2010, the Patriots decided it best to fill their roster with practically as many Gators as they could draft. In the second round of that year’s NFL Draft, New England selected defensive end/outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham and inside linebacker Brandon Spikes. The Pats would look back at Florida in the fourth round and take tight end Aaron Hernandez. That same year, New England would also sign former Gators defensive end/defensive tackle Gerard Warren. All four remained part of the roster into the 2011 season and three are expected to be big contributors tonight (Cunningham struggled to find a spot in the defensive rotation during the regular season and was put on injured reserve on December 10, 2011).

Not to be left out, the Giants have a former Gator as well. Signed as an undrafted free agent before the 2011 season, defensive end Justin Trattou made the roster and is listed as active. With Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck also on the roster, Trattou’s time has been extremely limited during his rookie season. We don’t expect to see Trattou on the field during Sunday’s game, but just being there as an undrafted rookie free agent will be an experience for the former Florida player.

If you don’t have a routing interest in tonight’s game, cheer for the Gators. Each one will be looking for their first (and hopefully not their last) Super Bowl ring.

Aaron Hernandez, The Second Fiddle That Clearly Isn’t

When a team’s starting tight end amasses 90 catches, 1,327 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns during an All-Pro season, it’s easy to forget who the other TEs on the roster are. When that team is the New England Patriots, the exact opposite is true.

Rob Gronkowski had one of the most prolific second seasons in NFL history. The Patriots’ “other” tight end wasn’t far behind. Despite missing two games, former Florida Gators’ star Aaron Hernandez totaled 79 catches, 910 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Peter May of The New York Times reminds us just how important Hernandez is to New England’s offense, and it’s not just in the passing game. Hernandez totaled 61 rushing yards on five carries in the Patriots’ win over the Denver Broncos.

Hernandez suffered a mild concussion against Denver, but should be ready to go against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. New England will be elated to see both of their stars tight ends on the field.

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Tim Tebow Show Renewed For One More Episode; Denver Broncos Win

I’ll preface this by saying the Denver Broncos won their playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night. The Denver Broncos pulled ahead early and got the victory in overtime. The Denver Broncos will go on to face the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs on Saturday, January 14.

Okay, enough of that. TIM TEBOW!!! AHHHH!!!

The former Florida Gators star led the Broncos to overtime fireworks and a spot in the next round. In his first career playoff game, Tebow’s 10 completions on 21 passing attempts isn’t anything to be surprised about – accuracy has been and will be an issue – but he did manage 316 yards in the air against the league’s top passing defense. His 125.6 rating, yup, tops in Broncos playoff history. And then, there was this:

If you expected the Broncos to run, run, run during their first offensive possession of overtime, you were probably paying less than passive attention at the start of the extra frame. Just like that, it was over. Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas over the middle and Thomas did the rest, racing 80 yards for the winning score.

Whether you love him or hate him or believe he’ll make a full career out of being a professional quarterback, Tebow is headed to the next round and you’ll hear plenty about him for another week. A team that was expected to finish somewhere near the bottom of the standings took down one of the NFL’s great dynasties and now moves on to another. If you’re a Tebow fan, you’re still on cloud nine. If you’re a Florida fan, you’re still grinning. If you’re a sports fan in general, you’ll be watching in five days when Tebow and the Broncos attempt to do it all again.

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Sam Bradford, Charlie Weis, Riley Cooper And 2 Days In Gainesville

Link no. 1: Sam Bradford’s father grew up with Riley Cooper’s father in Oklahoma. Link no. 2: Bradford’s new offensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams is Josh McDaniels who coached with Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis while both were with the New England Patriots. Link no. 3: McDaniels was the head coach of the Denver Broncos during Tim Tebow’s rookie season in the NFL. Link no. 4: Cooper and Tebow led the Gators to the 2008 national championship beating Bradford-led Oklahoma in the process.

Okay, so the Tebow mentions were put in there solely for additional links that mean little to the story. The actual story is that in June, Bradford spent two days at Florida learning the offense the Rams will install from Weis, who has run it pretty effectively at numerous stops. Cooper acted as Bradford’s host and guard against the random Gator defensive lineman wanting to put him to the ground.
While it may seem odd, occurrences such as this do happen and this one in particular can be attributed to the NFL lockout. Since Bradford couldn’t learn directly from McDaniels, he decided Weis was the next best thing. Stay calm Florida fans, Bradford is no longer a Sooner and in his one shot at the Gators defense, well, you remember what happened.

Former Gator Fred Taylor Agrees to Deal with New England Patriots

The sixteenth-leading rusher in NFL history has joined the past decade’s most dominant franchise. Former Florida Gator Fred Taylor has agreed to a deal with the New England Patriots.

Although I’m not a Pats’ fan by any means, I’m happy for Taylor and glad it looks like he’ll get a chance to finish his career with a team that has a real shot to get him a ring…or two. Taylor had a down year in 2008, but he’s still got some gas in him and should be able to contribute in New England.