On Sunday morning I wrote about the seemingly sudden end to Jeff Gordon’s career. As a long-time closet NASCAR fan, his retirement snuck up on me and impacted me more than I thought it would.
Gordon’s retirement has also grabbed me by the neck and forced some introspection. It’s silly to think that retiring athletes facing the end of their careers causes otherwise reasonable men to consider their own mortality, but it happens. When it’s over we are all left wondering, “how the hell did that happen so quickly?”
At a certain point in life we stop looking at ourselves. Sure, we stand in front of the mirror every morning but we don’t really look. We peer beyond ourselves while going about the daily task of grooming, choosing instead to remember how things used to be; how we were before tired eyes and deepening lines; how we were when Jeff Gordon was still “the kid,” and we were there in gaudy t-shirts and caps, cheering him on.
I haven’t watched an entire NASCAR race in years. Like so many thousands of others, I seem to have outgrown the sport. But I’ll always check in to see where the 24 car is running and still get that exhilarating rush of adrenaline when I know he did well. Whenever I do, my two young boys sit transfixed by the swirl of color and steel they see on the screen. Even at their age, I can see the natural draw of danger and speed. I’ve promised them both that I’ll take them to a race someday, and they are thrilled by the prospect.
So often the end is what makes us think about the beginnings.
And as spectators, we often intently watch events occurring inside the proverbial fish bowl without a tremendous amount of regard for the fish themselves. They are there to entertain, and when they are through, we’ll move onto to the next fish bowl and howl away at their successes and failures.
But what DeAndre Washington accomplished during his career at Texas Tech deserves more than that from us. His story of blazing early success, followed by terrible heartbreak, then followed again by finishing as one the Red Raiders’ all-time greats is worthy of our praise and gratitude.
In 2011, after a stellar freshman campaign, DeAndre tore his ACL against Missouri in the 2nd to last game of the season. He was forced to redshirt in 2012, and began the long and difficult task of rehabilitating a ligament that has ended the careers of many before him. But through it all Washington stayed focused on a return to the field and carried an uncanny amount of perspective with him. “Not only does it build you as an athlete but as a man and I think going through that was probably one of the greatest things that could happen to me,” Washington told Lubbock TV station KLBK in August, 2014.
Last season, during an otherwise dismal year for the team, Washington was one of the lone bright spots. He ran for just over 1,100 yards and added another 328 receiving the ball out of the backfield. Those stats in and of themselves were storybook enough, but Washington topped them this season, capped off last Saturday by becoming the first Texas Tech running back to rush for more than 200 yards since Shaud Williams did it in 1999.
Washington now has 1,282 rushing yards this year with another two games to play. And his effort on Senior Day, almost four years to the day after suffering such a career threatening injury, ensure that he’ll be someday recognized officially as one of the best ever to wear the Double T. Unofficially he’s already there.
The bloom and the wilt in any athlete’s career is short, but is guaranteed so for college athletes. We only have them around for a handful of years before they move on to often bigger and better things. We stay behind and watch the new fish come in. But once and a while an athlete comes along who by the sheer force of his will and quality of character, ensures that he will not be forgotten.
So, to paraphrase Eminem, Tech fans won’t forget about Dre.