Sports Tragedy: How Teams React to Sudden Deaths
by Trevor Whenham - 10/20/2009
The real world has sadly invaded the bubble of sports yet again. The University of Connecticut is dealing with tragedy after cornerback Jasper Howard was stabbed and killed early on Sunday morning - just hours after he had recorded a career-high 11 tackles against Louisville. Howard was a rapidly developing player who was a key piece of the UConn backfield and had a reasonable shot at an NFL career.
The team and the campus have obviously been rocked by this development. Though we can't know first hand how the team is going to react, we can look at how teams have responded to past tragedies to get an indication. I'm obviously not suggesting that we do this as a college football handicapping angle - that would be crass. It may give us an indication of what the rest of this season holds for this team, though.
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Sean Taylor, Safety, Washington Redskins - Taylor was at home in Florida recovering from an injury in November of 2007 when an intruder entered his house and shot him in the leg. He died the next day. Taylor was a controversial player, but he was extremely talented and clearly popular with his Redskins' teammates. The Skins had lost three in a row before the death, and they continued that losing streak for one more game after the death. It was a one-point loss in a low scoring game, though. Most notably, the defense was fired up and didn't allow a touchdown. Washington went on to win their last four games to make the playoffs.
Nick Adenhart, Pitcher, Los Angeles Angels - At the beginning of the current baseball season, Adenhart was killed in a car accident hours after pitching seven scoreless innings in his first start of the season. Adenhart was just 22, but he had made the rotation as the third starter as a result of a strong spring training. The team's game was cancelled on the day he was killed. The next day, the team rallied around Adenhart and beat the Red Sox. They lost seven of their next 10 as part of an uncharacteristically slow start, though, and you have to wonder how much the grief of the Adenhart situation had to do with that.
Dan Snyder, Center, Atlanta Thrashers - As training camp ended in 2003, Snyder was killed when he was a passenger in a Ferrari driven by teammate Dany Heatley. Snyder died six days after the injury, and just four days before the season began. The opening game was preceded by tributes to Snyder, and the team won the game. Despite lacking talent, the team didn't lose a regulation game until their eighth contest.
Darryl Kile, Pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals - The 33-year-old Kile, a 20-game winner in 2000, was found dead in his hotel room in June of 2002 as a result of a heart attack after failing to show up for pre-game warmups in Chicago. The game was postponed. The next night, when Kile should have been starting, the Cardinals played without focus, and lost badly to the Cubs. The Cards went on to win the NL Central handily before falling to the Giants in the NLCS.
Josh Hancock, Pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals - The Cardinals have faced far more than their share of tragedy. Hancock died in a car accident in April of 2007. It was after a game, and he had been drinking, and was also reportedly texting while driving. The game that night was cancelled. The Cardinals were blown out in their first two games after the accident, and lost four of five. Manager Tony La Russa and several players had been with the team when Kile died as well, so it's no surprise that the impact was so strong.
Pelle Lindbergh, Goalie, Philadelphia Flyers - At the end of the 1984-85 season Lindbergh won the Vezina Trophy as the top goalie in the NHL. He started the next season on the same strong note, and was building an impressive reputation. That all ended at the beginning of November when Lindbergh, who had been drinking, crashed his Porsche into a school on his way home from Philadelphia's practice facility. Before Lindbergh's death the team had been red hot, winning 10 in a row and 12 of their first 14. Despite the loss of their goalie, the winning streak continued as the team won three more games. The Flyers went on to have the second best record in the league behind the Oilers, but were upset in the first round of the playoffs.
Bryan Pata, Defensive end, Miami Hurricanes - Pata, a senior, was on the Hendricks Award watchlist for the best defensive ends in the country, and was very likely to be selected in the 2007 NFL Draft. He was returning to his apartment in November of 2006 after a practice when he was shot and killed in the parking lot. The case is still unsolved. The Hurricanes struggled early in their first game without Pata, allowing two long TDs by Darrius Heyward-Bey in the first 17 minutes. They rallied at that point, though, totally shut down Maryland for the rest of the game, and nearly pulled off a comeback - they lost 14-13.
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