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Brad Stinn went to football practice yesterday. Just as he has every fall afternoon for the past 12 years, Stinn "got this little inner stirring at about two o'clock," and went to the fields to play ball.
But Stinn no longer plays for the Harvard team. The senior linebacker sustained a concussion--the fifth of his career--on the fifth play from scrimmage last Saturday at Columbia, and team doctors told him that another such injury might lead to brain damage.
So Stinn now comes down to Soldiers Field to watch, to help, to cheer--and to miss football badly. "It's weird," he said yesterday at practice, his grey warm-up suit setting him apart from the white-shirted defense and the red-shirted of-fense. "When I come down here now, I don't have a function and I'm an out-sider. After I knew I'd be out for the season, I didn't know whether I'd want to keep coming to practice. But when I came down on Tuesday, I knew how much I would miss the camaraderie and just being here."
Brad Stinn. Of all people. That's what his teammates and coaches say. Hardest hitter on the team. Toughest competitor. Loves the game. Loves to win. Jim Callinan, the senior fullback who has played with Stinn through four years of college and four years at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, said, "The way Brad plays, you know it might have happened--he's all out, all the time."
And how he looked the part. Anyone might have the well-muscled, 6-2, 215-pound body, but Stinn has that big mid-western face, the wide, confident, permanent smile, the two enormous eye-teeth as big and white as business cards introducing themselves. And has there ever been a better football player name? It all makes it that much harder to leave the game he loves.
Stinn tries to put the best face on his absence, and he tries to diminish his importance to the team, talking up his successors. But you can tell he knows the real story--how badly he will be missed. "That's the thing I feel worst about--the experience factor," he says.
By that he means he was one of only four returning starters on the best unit in last year's Ivy League. "It's tough, tough, tough, tough, to lose a player like him," said coach Joe Restic, giving his favorite adjective a workout. Stinn may have been the key performer on the team, and certainly seemed destined for All-Ivy recognition. As a starter last year, he had 58 tackles--including 11 against William and Mary--the most for any returning player. Rumored to have been one of the top candidates for captain this year, Stinn also served as an unofficial team leader. "Leadership" is a word that comes to several coaches' and players' (especially the younger ones) minds when asked about Stinn. His leadership now must come from the sidelines.
Stinn's plight won't move anyone to tears. Not by a long shot is this the story of a man who lost his one chance to make something of himself. A little time with Brad Stinn--the man who sold rugs to much of South House two years ago, the man who (honest!) sold used cars last summer--will convince anyone that the guy is a hustler, and, more than likely, a winner. But he has also always been an athlete, and that has been taken away from him. His health is intact--"That's the hard part about my injury, I feel fine now"--but he has lost something precious to him. After 12 years surrounded by the crowd that is the game of football, it is not easy to be alone.
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