When Greg Schiano told his kids they'd be moving to Florida, because he was going to become the coach of the NFL team in Tampa, one of them said: "What about Eric?''
LeGrand and Schiano got closer after the injury. A lot closer. "He was my coach before,'' LeGrand told me Sunday. "Now he's part of my family.''
How'd that happen?
"After I had the accident,'' LeGrand said, "I was laying in my hospital bed. My mom was with me every day. But she needed some relief at night, so about 11 o'clock, every other night, coach Schiano came into the room. I was so scared I couldn't sleep most of the time. But I'd look over and there he'd be. He'd talk to me, about everything. And if I'd doze off, I'd wake up and there he'd be, with his computer in his lap, doing the work he was supposed to be doing but he was seeing me instead. That happened every other night. We got close. He became a lot more than a coach to me.''
As LeGrand rehabbed and put the pieces of his life back together, he still thought about football. And he thought of it this spring. Had his career not been ended in the middle of his junior season, there's a chance he would have been picked on day two or three of this year's draft. LeGrand doesn't give in to pity much, but when he was watching the draft on TV late last month, he said at one point, "That could have been me.''
And so last Tuesday, when Schiano called to tell him something, football was still on LeGrand's mind. According to LeGrand, Schiano told him, "I want to offer you a contract. I want you to be our 90th man.''
"You're serious?'' LeGrand answered. "You want to waste that spot on me?''
But Schiano assured him it was not a waste. He wanted his new team to see the inspiration that LeGrand has become. As Schiano said in a Bucs statement: "Leading up to the draft, I couldn't help but think that this should've been Eric's draft class. This small gesture is the least we could do to recognize his character, spirit, and perseverance. The way Eric lives his life epitomizes what we are looking for in Buccaneer men."
LeGrand won't be paid by the team, he said. He probably won't be around them very much, though he does plan to go to Tampa and meet players, and, he hopes, begin to do some motivational speaking. He's training for a broadcasting career now, and he'd like to merge the speaking and broadcasting, in his ideal job.
In a 20-minute conversation, LeGrand came across as upbeat and not looking back or asking, "Why me?''
"This is not the way I wanted my career to go, obviously,'' he said. "But there's no use in looking back and replaying what happened. I'm working every day to get better. I'm to the point now where I can sit by myself for 15 minutes. [My brain is] sending some signals down below where the injury was, which has surprised the doctors a lot. They have no answer for it. Every spinal-cord case is different, and I am determined to do everything I can to be able to walk again.''
When the Bucs sent his contract the other day, LeGrand was so proud he snapped a picture of it and put it on Facebook and Twitter. He's still reveling in what happened. His goal now is to be able to show people there's life after a catastrophic injury, even though the football part of that life will be more symbolic than real.
"I think I've been able to touch a nation,'' LeGrand said. "That's what I want to continue to do. If I can touch one person a day, I'm happy.''
There will be a 5K walk in New Jersey, A Walk To Believe 2012, on June 2 to benefit LeGrand and help defray his medical and living expenses. For more information, visit
Now for your email:
LIFE AFTER FOOTBALL IS NOT FOOTBALL'S RESPONSIBILITY.
Valid point. It's hard, when you're in the middle of the hero-worshipping, big-money life many of these players lead, to have the sort of perspective that a Matt Light or Kurt Warner has. I agree with you: More of them should.
TAKE AWAY THE ULTRA-PROTECTIVE HELMETS.
You're not the only one to recommend taking away the helmets that exist now. I really wonder, though, if the players union -- and majority of players, particularly from position groups like wide receiver, who go sprinting across the middle to catch balls, often not knowing where the hit is going to come from -- would support a diminution of protection.
DENNIS THINKS I'M CONDESCENDING.
I didn't call fans "stupid sheep." I said fans can't have it both ways. They can't have the mega-hits they long for, then bleat for the league to do something about the effects of those hits once players retire. As for the fans who believe the vicious hits need to be out of the game, I agree there are some of those. I do not believe there are a majority of fans who feel the way you do -- because every time the league comes down hard on a defensive player for one of those hits, my Twitter feed and email box are more full of those saying the league wants players to wear skirts, and Roger Goodell is ruining football as we know it. Trying not to be condescending, Dennis, and I'm sorry that you feel I am. I'm just trying to call 'em the way I see 'em.
SHOULD AGENTS BE DOING MORE FOR PLAYERS?
Good question. I was on SiriusXM NFL Radio this morning with former player Ross Tucker, and he made the point that there are plenty of ways that players, during their careers, are prepped for life after football. Tucker attended three separate league-sponsored business and/or broadcasting programs during offseasons while he was a player. His point was that there's a lot to do for players who want to take advantage of off-field opportunities, or post-career opportunities.
Regarding the agents, I know many of them. And many are involved with their clients once they leave the game. But not all players want to be "baby-sat'' once they leave football. When NFL Player Association czar De Smith met with agents at the Scouting Combine this year, he preached to them that they've got to make sure their clients are educated for life after football, and that football is only a small part of their employment lives. So it's tough to mandate the union and league doing much more -- but I do believe the counseling aspect that London Fletcher discussed in my column yesterday is a good idea.
CARL THINKS I MALIGNED MARY JO WHITE UNFAIRLY.
Fair point, Carl. And you are right in that I implied that White would back whichever side hired her to give an opinion. For any inference that White is a hired gun, I apologize. That's not what I meant. I was basing my opinion on the fact that the league retained White, paid her, and put her on a conference call with NFL media about the Saints case. I'm not questioning the fact that she's one of the most respected jurists in the country, because she is. But I do believe if White had taken a look at the evidence, found it insufficient and told the league so, the NFL would never have allowed her to speak up, and never would have made public the fact that White had analyzed the evidence. Thanks for calling me on that one.
RETHINKING A LOVE OF FOOTBALL.
All good points. I write in
Now, as for