Last Wednesday, SportsGrid wrote about the story of Samuel Jurgens, the University of Alabama student who was robbed and severely beaten by four members of the school’s football team – an organization better known for beating up on SEC opponents, within the confines of a sanctioned competition. Jurgens, Rolling Tider that he is, says he still supports Alabama football. Why let four idiots ruin generations of tradition? (Also, Alabama wins a ton, so it’s hard to hate on them.)
This story hit close to home. Not because I was once beaten within inches of my life by the University of Pittsburgh football team – I’m a 2010 Pitt alum – but because I was almost beaten within inches of my life by the University of Pittsburgh football team, and even still my resolve in them was so shaken I nearly swore off the team altogether. I’m here today to explain why Samuel Jurgens should serve as an example to college football fans everywhere.
My story begins the way many of these stories do: with alcohol. It was the fall of 2007, a crisp weekend evening on the Pitt campus. Like a good college student, I got drunk with my friends at some house party, tossing back red Solo cups of keg beer and taking shots of who knows what and generally doing things that, a mere six years later, makes me queasy to recount. My new girlfriend was with us. She shall remain nameless, but one important physical feature of hers is important to this story: her large booty. It was larger than most white girl booties. I was proud of this booty, but tried not to draw too much attention to it, lest I was called upon to fight for it.
Later that night, my friends and I piled into a campus shuttle for a lift back to our dorm. I plopped down in a seat near the back with my girlfriend, talking to her drunkenly about whatever it is you talk about when you’re drunk, paying little mind to the world around me – focusing, for a number of reasons, squarely on this one person and the drunken things coming out of her mouth.
I was told later that the yelling and jeering started right when I sat down, but I was oblivious to it. Everyone shouts and curses and laughs on the shuttle – the noise behind me didn’t seem out of place. But as the bus climbed higher on the hill that is the Pitt campus, I couldn’t help but notice, in between lulls in conversation, that some of the screaming sounded very specific.
“Don’t look back here, green jacket faggot!”
“Yo girl, forget about that little bitch and come step to a real man!”
“That fat ass gonna be mine real soon!”
And so on.
A New York City native, I’m used to tuning out insane people on public transportation, and hoped my girlfriend was doing the same. This became impossible when we reached our stop. All of my friends clamored out ahead of us, and as my girlfriend stepped into the aisle and towards the front, the screaming reached its fever pitch.
“Look at the ass on that white girl! Shit’s ridiculous!”
I wheeled on my verbal assailants, looking at them squarely for the first time.
In the back two rows of the shuttle sat half a dozen monster-people, not one under six feet, or 200 pounds, decked out in blue sweaters with the yellow “PITT” block lettering that told me these were no ordinary drunk student revelers – these were football players.
Now, college football in Pittsburgh and college football in Alabama (or Georgia, or Ohio, for that matter) are two different things. Sure, Big East football (which Pitt represented up through last season; now it’s joining the ACC) has its fanatics, its tailgaters, and its legions of grandfathers who passed their love to fathers who passed their love to sons, who can tell you about every offensive lineman to come through the university since Mark May. And Saturdays are still all about the game, and many a night out can revolve around putting on a jersey and stomping from bar to bar in a fit of touchdown-inspired adrenaline.
But while nearly every Alabama alum I’ve spoken to will reference the football team at some point in the conversation, Pitt students are just as likely to mention their nursing degree, or their theatre group, and look puzzled when asked about who won the big game last week. In fact, basketball took precedence over football during my time at the school – due in no small part to the basketball team actually being good, while the football team struggled to do more than compete in middling bowl games. We just don’t have that same reverence for the football team, as a whole, that SEC and Big Ten schools do. Maybe it’s because Pitt football hasn’t been consistently competitive in decades; maybe it’s that the Steelers, their NFL counterpart, run the town. Whatever the reason, we often found ourselves rooting for the team by default more than anything else.
So there was very little hero worship going on as I eyed this group of enormous troublemakers. I knew that our shared status as students of this fine university was not going to stop them from picking a fight; my height, weight and number disadvantage was of no concern to them either. Maybe they were mad about not getting scholarships to Alabama, or more likely Penn State. I’ll never know.
They all stood up and glowered at me, but the one in the middle was particularly huge, with dreadlocks hanging like squid legs off the top of his head. I didn’t know him at the time, but this 6-4 behemoth was not only a Pitt football player, but one who’d go on to a fair degree of fame — in 2007, a lowly freshman who would finish the season with a few tackles to his name; a few years later, a standout prospect headed to the NFL. That night, however, he was just a frothy mountain of a man-child.
“What’s up, bitch?” the mountain asked me, a vacant stare in his eye. I could tell all of them were bombed in that way only athletes can get bombed – drinking liquor like it’s beer, drinking beer like it’s water, drinking so much that even their massive bodies can’t process it fast enough. Knowing that asking them what they thought they were doing would be like asking six trees what they were doing in the middle of a forest, I turned to go.
Squid-headed mountain man reared back and smacked my ass, the clap of it echoing off the walls of the bus. The familiar chorus of “Ohhhhhs!” rose up, followed by laughter. I pivoted back around and glared at my sort-of attacker, trying to figure out what to do next. He stepped forward, pushing me back on my heels, and his teammates began climbing over the seats with bad intentions in their eyes. “What? What? What?”
Quickly weighing my options, I settled on this zinger: “Don’t touch my ass!” With that, I turned again, hands over my butt, and high-tailed it out of there. I met my girlfriend on the sidewalk and turned to look at the departing shuttle. “What happened in there?” she asked not unkindly, but it felt like a dagger anyway. The players shook their fists out the window, and a chorus of laughter carried them off into the night.
The story isn’t quite over. The next day as my friends and I trudged, hungover, from the dining hall, I walked past that same group of players. They were behind a column and couldn’t see me, but I caught a glimpse of them and heard them talk. Wouldn’t you know it – they were recounting a story about some skinny white kid they’d punked on the shuttle the night before.
“And then he goes, ‘Hey, uh, don’t touch my ass!’” one of them said, and they burst out laughing, wiping tears from their eyes, slapping their knees. True hilarity, indeed. I walked from the hall and, thankfully, never ran into such a raucously hammered group of football players again.
Did my humiliation and slightly stinging butt cheek compare to what Samuel Jurgens went through? Of course not. I was given the choice of whether or not I wanted to fight a group of physically overwhelming people, and I chose to escape; Jurgens had no such dilemma. But unlike Jurgens, I was not so quick to forgive. I continued going to Pitt football games and every time the defense went out there I hoped the squid-mountain-man would get flattened on a block, or his buddy would get torched for a long touchdown pass, or the whole unit would get embarrassed by South Florida or something. I mostly got my wish – we finished the season 5-7.
Of course, over the next few months, I realized the folly of my anger. First of all, I didn’t even know if all those dudes were defensive players – so, stop blaming the whole defense. From there it felt increasingly ridiculous to take my hurt feelings out on a team I would have otherwise supported, if not for some drunken shenanigans (as I came to consider them).
And after a while, I started focusing on the name on the front of the jersey again – the one that adorned my own chest, too, after all – rather than the back. This is the power of sports: a great healer, a great unifier. I had too much pride and too much hate for, say, West Virginia, to let past wounds inflicted by fellow Panthers sting – even though it’s not like I had a ton of love for the team to begin with. I just wanted to like the football team again. Plus, I later ran into then-stud running back Dion Lewis at a party and he was just about the nicest dude ever. I had to get over myself at that point.
This is why I have so much respect for Samuel Jurgens. His predicament was more severe, and yet he forgave (the team as a whole, anyway) with such speed and resolve. Some may call it ridiculous to care that much about a sports team. I call it understanding what’s important in life. Football Saturdays (and Sundays) with your friends, tailgating, cheering and enjoying a great win: These things trump scars – real and emotional – every time, and that’s true regardless of Big East or SEC or MAAC or Division II. It’s about the love of the game. Thanks for the reminder, Samuel. I needed that.
All that being said, it filled me with great pleasure when enormous squid-head mountain dude was drafted by a middling-to-awful Midwestern NFL team – not to mention that little arrest/suspension thing a couple years back. Karma. It’ll come to those ‘Bama boys too, sure enough.