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Colt McCoy catches a bad break -- and fights the urge to cry

PASADENA, Calif. -- Colt McCoy's eyes glistened as he stood Thursday at his locker, but he refused to let the tears fall. The Texas quarterback had been denied a shot at conference and national titles in 2008 by 0.018 points in the BCS standings. He had barely lost the Heisman Trophy the same year to a player whose team McCoy and Texas had beaten by 10. He lost the 2009 Heisman when his line couldn't block a once-in-a-generation force of nature named Ndamukong Suh.

On Thursday, McCoy suffered the final indignity of a glorious but ultimately snakebit career. On the Longhorns' first drive of the BCS title game, in the red zone, he carried on an option play. Alabama linebacker Marcell Dareus blasted McCoy and rammed him, shoulder-first, into the back of center Chris Hall. The collision pinched a nerve in McCoy's throwing shoulder. McCoy never returned to the Longhorns' 37-21 loss. "I've taken hits my whole career," McCoy said. "I've taken tons of hits like that. I guess it just caught me the right way."

Given multiple chances to feel sorry for himself, McCoy didn't take the bait. "It would be so easy to question why," he said. But he never did.

A few feet from where McCoy spoke, Army Lt. Col. Greg Gadson fiddled with the zoom on his digital camera with one hand and propped himself higher in his wheelchair with the other. Gadson wanted to take a photo of the all-time winningest quarterback in college football's marquee division, as McCoy explained the pinched nerve that knocked him out of the biggest game of his life.

As McCoy pondered the calamity that had befallen him on Thursday night, his mind must have flashed back at least once to Nov. 14, when Gadson spoke to the Longhorns before they faced Baylor. That day, Gadson explained how he and his unit had driven through Baghdad on May 7, 2007. Gadson explained that a roadside bomb exploded just as the transport in which he rode passed. Gadson explained that of all the men in his unit, he was the only one who came home without legs.

The 21-year veteran could have bemoaned his fate. The 1989 West Point grad had every right to shake his fist at the heavens and beg to know what he had done to deserve such a fate. He didn't do any of that. He learned to move in a wheelchair and on prosthetic legs.

"It takes time," Gadson said. "But if you know where you need to go, and you know where you need to look, it just makes the healing go faster."

Gadson provided some more perspective on Thursday, and while losing a football game can never compare to the loss Gadson suffered in the service of his country, he offered some great advice for McCoy. "Just keep a positive attitude," Gadson said. "When things difficult happen to you, guess what? They're always in the past. As hard as it is not to look back and wonder what if, you've just got to look forward."

So McCoy can't waste his time wondering how that one perfect hit derailed him or the fact that he could have kept playing if he'd played any other position. "If I was playing free safety, I'd go out there and hit somebody," McCoy said. "But playing quarterback, there's no telling where the ball would have gone if I'd tried to throw or even if I could have gotten the ball up to throw."

When someone asked McCoy the Big Question, he kept his moist eyes focused squarely on the future. Certainly Gadson was proud to hear his answer.

"I worked and played my whole career to be on this stage, to be given this opportunity," McCoy said. "I know what it would have been like had I played that game. To know that is tough. But at the same time, I am a man of faith. I stand on the rock. I'll never question God for why things happen the way they do. ... There's bigger and better football days to come."

So don't cry for McCoy. He didn't cry for himself.

"I know," he said, "I'll be on a championship stage one day."

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