San Jose St. player is a real feel-good story
There has never been more anticipation over one punt in the history of college football.
No, it wasn't the BCS championship game played in front 60,000 people and millions of TV viewers. The game was a WAC conference game played in front of 10,173 people with no major television coverage.
No, it wasn't Miami-Florida, or Michigan-Ohio State or any other bitter rivalry that seems to make every single play the most important play ever. It was the Nevada Wolfpack taking on the San Jose State Spartans on a Thursday night.
No, it wasn't a tie game with the Wolfpack backed up its own goal line and less than 10 seconds remaining in the game. Actually, the game was basically over with the entire fourth quarter remaining and Wolfpack leading the Spartans, 37-12.
There really shouldn't have been much reason for the electricity surging through the stadium. After all, the game was turning into a blowout. Most people usually leave the game about that time. Still, there wasn't nary a fan that left the game early, let alone left their seat.
There was something more important than the score or winning and losing.
With 13:45 remaining in the game, the anticipations and expectations finally culminated as Nevada was forced to punt for the first time in the game.
Throughout the stadium, a chant began to rise, "Parry, Parry, Parry." No, this wasn't some Rudy Ruettiger story. Rudy couldn't handle what Neil Parry has been through.
Clad in his dark blue #32 Spartan jersey, Neil buckled up his chin strap, inserted his mouth guard and ambled onto the field - just like any other player on hundreds of college punt return teams throughout the country.
The play was unspectacular with the San Jose State getting a minimal return. Parry bumped a few people on the initial line surge and then sprinted down field failing to pick up a block to aid the return. The average special teams coach grading the play on film after the game would have probably given Neil a 'C' on the play - "good alignment, good technique, but an average effort."
But that would be someone unfamiliar with the story of Neil Parry because there is nothing about him that is average, particularly his effort.
In the search for stories and competition between news sources, sports writers often times write these fluffy stories about athletes overcoming some obstacle to get where he is. People call them feel-good stories because the idea is to not only get people to feel good about the subject of the story, but also feel good about the basic human qualities like honesty and courage.
The entire movie "Rudy" is a feel-good story. It's based on the idea of a young player overcoming his lack of size and talent to play a few plays for Notre Dame.
Neil Parry wishes the only thing he was lacking was size and talent.
Instead, he lacks something that makes Rudy's story look like a walk in the park.
Neil Parry is lacking the rest of his right leg.
For people unfamiliar with his story, Parry was a promising young player for the Spartans three years ago. During a game against Texas-El Paso on Oct. 14, 2000, Parry sprinted down on kickoff cover and in the process of trying to tackle the ball carrier, a teammate rolled over his leg, breaking tibia and fibula in several spots. The breaks were compound fractures, meaning the bone broke through the skin. The play was one of the most gruesome and grotesque in a sport filled with awful injuries.
It was horrific injury, to be sure, but players come back from those type of injuries all the time. However, it appeared there would be no coming back from this one. An infection quickly spread in the leg and doctors were forced to amputate Parry's leg just below the knee 48 hours later.
In a sport where fear of injury is an afterthought, Parry's injury hit the conscience of many players hard. His own brother, Josh, a star linebacker for the Spartans at the time and currently a player for the Philadelphia Eagles, was ready to quit football forever.
But it was Neil who coaxed him to play again because he as told Josh he was going to play again, too.
After a major setback in their life, people have two choices - sit and feel sorry for themselves or make the best of the situation. Hours after the amputation, Neil vowed that he would play football again.
It was courageous statement from an already courageous athlete. But if people thought Neil displayed courage and heart following the surgery, they should have seen his recovery.
Everyone's read plenty of stories about overcoming adversity and long odds. They all have different themes.
Maybe it was overcoming surgery - Parry knows about overcoming surgeries, he has only had 25 of them.
Maybe it was overcoming fear and doubt - there was always some that creeps into a person's mind, but the fear and doubt mainly belonged to other people who saw what he was trying to do.
Maybe it was overcoming pain - everyday things like walking were painful for Parry, let alone the hours upon hours of rehabilitation. He tried 15 different prosthetic legs to find the least painful for his strenuous workouts. And his latest surgery was to remove nerve endings in his knee to relieve some of the "phantom pain" he was experiencing.
The newest leg, which was about three pounds lighter than his previous legs, allowed him to run better and move with more mobility and balance. He started running in July and began his own individual early-morning workouts to prepare himself for his senior year.
All that was left was the bureaucratic red tape. His insurance company, Mutual of Omaha, refused to insure the very expensive prostheses because football put it in unusual danger. After several complaints and negative media coverage, Mutual of Omaha relented on its position and everything was clear for Parry's return.
His official return came Thursday night and it lasted all of about 30 seconds. But it was a glorious 30 seconds.
Yet, Parry still wasn't satisfied.
"I didn't hit anybody," Parry told reporters following the game. "That's all I wanted, was to get out there and get a hit."
Whether or not he gets to hit somebody, whether or not he plays in another game, Neil Parry has overcome more adversity and obstacles than entire football teams.
His courage and strength give people in similar situations hope to accomplish their dreams. And that truly is a feel-good story.