Saturday, February 4, 2012

UMass Football on the Super Bowl Stage with Victor Cruz with the Giants and James Ihedigbo on the Patriots Team

I live in idyllic, historic Amherst known for its great colleges and university, the beauty of its natural landscape, and the many writers, scholars, and scientists that have spent time here.

We have also produced our share of outstanding athletes and two of them are football players and both played at UMass Amherst. I have gone to my share of football games because Fall is beautiful here in New England and the UMass Minute Marching Band that plays at half-time puts on a show that should not be missed. It was led for decades by George N. Parks.

UMass has always been an underdog when it came to college football (you probably have a favorite college team that you cheer for) on the national stage.

Now, however, UMass will be at the Super Bowl with Victor Cruz playing for the Giants (based in NY) and James Ihedigbo playing for the Patriots (based in Boston).

What I enjoy (perhaps most) about these two players is their stories. Just last night I was reading The New York Times about the Catholic high school that Cruz attended in Patterson, New Jersey (I started my "academic" career at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic School in neighboring Passaic). Although his high school has closed, the reporter interviewed a nun who had taught there (deja vu for me, too) who recalled his smile and his love of football.

Now Cruz and his salsa moves on the playing field are even being imitated by Madonna, who will be singing at the half-time show at the Super Bowl tomorrow.

Ihedigbo's Amherst connections are even stronger since he played football at Amherst High School (and was recently inducted into its Hall of Fame) before playing for UMass Amherst. During the off-season he helps out poor children in Nigeria, the country where his parents were born.

Both these football players were coached by Don Brown at UMass Amherst (he has since left and is now at UConn) and there is a wonderful article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette about Brown and his two former players that he will be watching at the Super Bowl tomorrow. In the article, Brown recalls Cruz's "irrepressible spirit on the field."

"He always had a smile on his face, always came to practice with loads of energy," said Brown, who still sees that energy. "He ran routes in practice like he'd run them in a game. He made everybody have a good time around him and kept everybody loose."

And: "While Cruz played with joy, Ihedigbo was fueled by passion. The safety from Amherst was one of the few players whose fire on the field and on the sideline matched Brown's. Ihedigbo arrived at UMass as a walk-on and quickly established himself as an integral part of the Minuteman defense."

Brown called him "one of the best leaders he's ever coached."

Don Brown deserves congratulations along with these two former UMass Amherst football players!

And for those who appreciate sports management programs, our program at the Isenberg School of Management has its share of graduates in the Patriots and the Giants organizations.