Dear 2018 Maryland Terps football team,
Ever since the final whistle of that truly incredible Week 1 victory over Texas, I’ve found myself thinking about you guys a lot — about what you all must be going through in dealing with the loss of your teammate Jordan McNair just three months ago, and how difficult everything must be. Eventually, over the past few weeks, I got to the point where I decided that I wanted to sit down and write something to the team.
There are a bunch of things I want to say here. But the most important one, by far, is just to let you all know that….
I couldn’t be more proud of you guys.
Now I realize that might come off as a little odd on the heels of a tough defeat against Temple last week. But this goes so much deeper than football. And, to be honest, I kind of wanted to write you all this week in particular because I know that this is one of those times when it’d be easy to get down on yourselves, forget about how far you’ve already come this season, and just have things snowball in a bad way for the rest of the year.
I want to make sure that doesn’t happen — that you guys don’t let it happen — and to let you know that, in so many ways, you are all an inspiration to people like me.
Losing a teammate, a brother, the way that the Maryland football family lost Jordan this past summer was an unspeakably sad tragedy. I can only imagine the level of grief and heartache that each and every one of you has experienced. And after going through what you have, no one would’ve faulted you if you didn’t win a single game this year — at least not those of us who understand grief, and pain, and loss.
I mean, you could’ve lost 100 to nothing in that opening game at FedEx Field against the Longhorns on September 1 and … we would’ve understood.
But, well, that’s not what happened.
Instead, on that afternoon, even as you continued to hurt and mourn, you found in your sport the opportunity to create a positive, life-affirming moment.
At the same time, you also showed me, once again, just how special this university is to me. And why, after all these years, I still love Maryland with all my heart.
For me, playing football at Maryland was a dream come true.
I was a huge Terps fan as a kid growing up in D.C. My entire family was, really. We’d watch Maryland football games every Saturday, and I’d jump up and dance around when we connected on a long bomb or got into the backfield for a huge sack. E.J. Henderson, Kris Jenkins, LaMont Jordan — those guys were like superheroes to me. They were larger than life, and when they succeeded it somehow felt like I succeeded right along with them. It was like we were winning games together.
So when it came time to decide where to play college ball, it was important to me to stay home, to play in my own backyard. And when I made that call, and let everyone know, I just remember how good it all felt. I was elated to be able to call myself a Terp, and to be associated with one of the finest schools in the country.
And from there, things just continued to get better and better. I loved everything about the school, and my team, and being part of the Maryland tradition.
Dream. Come. True.
Looking back on it now, playing at Maryland is an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything in this world. And as soon as my time in College Park was done, I made a promise to myself that I’d remain connected to Maryland and the Terrapins for life.
I go to Terp games any time I can. And over the years, during my NFL career, I’ve tried to come back and talk to the team as much as possible.
Each time I do, a big theme I always end up hitting on is adversity, and the importance of finding a way to fight through difficult times. I talk about that subject not because it’s fun to discuss, or easy, but because I truly believe that how we handle adversity is what defines us and determines the ultimate path of our lives.
A lot of times, I find myself talking about what was probably the most difficult and challenging experience for me in football — when Coach Mike Singletary sent me to the locker room on national television in the fourth quarter of a game 10 years ago against the Seahawks for making a boneheaded play. I had gotten a penalty for hitting someone under the facemask, and basically Coach wasn’t having it. He sent me to the showers, and then after the game, I got home and turned on the TV … and saw the press conference rant about the situation that has since gone viral. Coach felt like I was being selfish in taking that penalty and said he’d rather go to battle with 10 guys than with someone who is playing the game for himself. I still remember his exact words: “Cannot play with ’em, cannot win with ’em, cannot coach with ’em. Can’t do it. I want winners.”
It was devastating.
And it wasn’t something that I just got over in a few days. It lingered. After a while it was sapping my spirit, my will to compete.
Over time, though, my teammates stepped up and supported me and got me through it. They helped uplift my soul and my spirit. In conversation after conversation, they showed me they had my back, and that they believed in me, and that they knew I was a good teammate.
That meant the world to me.
One thing I’ve definitely realized in my time as a football player is that when teammates care for each other and show compassion and support, and are there for one another, well … there aren’t many things more beautiful than that.
Those bonds, when they solidify, can result in some truly special moments.
Which brings me back to that early-September matchup with the Longhorns. And a group of guys trying to soldier on in the face of something far, far more devastating and challenging than a coach yelling about you to some television cameras.
I gotta say: Whew, man, I honestly still get goosebumps thinking about that first play on offense when the team left a spot on the line open to honor Jordan.
I was right there on the sidelines for that game. Close up. So I was able to soak everything in and witness one of the most remarkable atmospheres I’ve ever seen at a football game. It was like something I’ve never felt before. There was just this certain energy in that stadium. Something in the air. A presence. And it didn’t matter that the Terps were big underdogs, or that Texas is a powerhouse program, or that almost no one gave you guys a shot to win that game, I could just straight up tell that … you were going to win.
I could tell, with absolute certainty, that what was happening out on that field was your way of honoring a friend — someone you loved, someone you admired … someone you miss. And that there was no chance you were going to let him down.
On that day, in the face of unimaginable adversity, you found a way to pull together as a team, as brothers, and come away victorious
I’m honestly not sure how you did it. But you did. Somehow.
Now, a few weeks later, things have gotten rough again.
First loss of the season. People jumping off the bandwagon. And asking whether those two early wins were a fluke. Whether you’ll win another game all season.
None of that is any fun.
But I’m here to tell you that this point in time, right now, is when you’re really going to be tested the most. This is where you’re going to make or break your entire season.
And look, you didn’t think everything was going to be easy just because you beat Texas, did you? You realized there’d be more adversity. So you knew this moment would come.
What matters now is how you respond.…
But you’ve all already shown anyone paying attention the strength and heart and will of this team. So I have no doubt that you’re going to bounce back and finish the season strong. And as you’re going about that journey, you all — each and every one of you — need to know that it’s not just me who is proud of you.
You guys are inspiring people worldwide — Terp alums, for sure, but also just people who know what you’re going through and realize the fortitude that it takes to keep moving forward in the face of it all.
We see you. We’re proud of you. And … we believe in you.
So just keep doing the best you can. Stay together. Play the game with love. And always, no matter what, keep Jordan in your heart.
Because I’m pretty sure he’s proud of you, too.
Once a Terp, always a Terp,