September 21, 2013. LaVell Edwards Stadium. Holy War. Utah 13 BYU 3. 8:00 left in the 3rd quarter. Taysom Hill just scrambled on a broken pass play on 3rd down and came a yard short of 1st down. BYU on the Utah 31 faces 4th and 1. BYU with no hesitation lines up to go for it. Shotgun, Paul Lasike to Hill's left, Jamaal Williams on the right. Handoff to Jamaal on a misdirection play. Jamaal finds very little daylight, but dives between the left guard and tackle to convert for a 1st down. Everyone stands except #21 in royal blue. The referee crew converge on the ball to place it quickly to facilitate "Go Fast, Go Hard." They stand over BYU's 18-year-old sophomore wonderback. Jamaal Williams isn't getting up. He isn't even moving.
It was quiet. Thoughts running through the mind of fans and players alike as both sidelines took the all too familiar pose of taking a knee with helmet in hand pressed upon the turf. Several minutes passed by.
Remember how quickly all the rivalry game emotion seemed stupid? Remember how scared you felt for Jamaal? We all watched as Jamaal was boarded and carted off the field.
I'll never forget the heartbreaking image of Jamaal's mother walking briskly behind the cart trying to keep up with her baby. What was she thinking about? Was she wondering if her son was ever going to walk again?
Here's the crazy thing. As soon as they leaves the field, fans and players carry on as if we didn't just potentially witness a tragedy. The game sucks everyone back in. We try not to think about the injuries. We consume ourselves with the ebb and flow of the matchup. Did BYU really go to Eric Thornton twice unsuccessfully in the biggest moments of the game? How could that possibly be a no call with all the contact on Mitch Mathews on the deep ball on the last play of the game? How on earth could this game be going away for two years?
While I thought about those things, I'm sure I'm not the only one to hurry back to my car to listen to KSL hoping Greg Wrubell could get an update on Jamaal's condition.
Thankfully, Jamaal returned to full health, even playing a couple of weeks later. Maybe it was the 65,000 prayers offered up in those long, uncomfortable minutes of silence.
I've been going to BYU football games my whole life. The pre-game prayers were just a part of the BYU tradition, I felt. Of course, BYU prays before their sporting events. I took these prayers for granted, they were given for the sake of reverence. They went into the "before we eat" category. It is what you do as a Christian. You pray. Often.
Ever since Jamaal's injury, I've taken pre-game stadium-wide prayer far more seriously. Maybe I'm maturing. Maybe I'm too sensitive. But as I walk to LaVell Edwards Stadium now, I'm hoping that this is not the day one of these young men end up paralyzed for life, or damages their brain to develop CTE.
I love BYU Football. It has brought me some great memories with my family and friends. But I sometimes feel guilty watching it. Perhaps its Chris Nowinski fault, but with each injury, each hit, the harder it gets to bury that guilt.
Despite that, I still paid up for 2014 season tickets. Its my dilemma. I will watch, write, tweet, post and talk about everything BYU football. I will invest time and money into it. But each time the sidelines stop game planning and start praying, I wonder, "Is all this worth it?"