Eric LeGrand proudly wore his red Tampa Bay home jersey as he made his way across the field in his motorized wheelchair before the game against the Giants got underway. LeGrand was drafted by the Buccaneers, despite being paralyzed, by coach Greg Schiano in May. Schiano was his coach two years ago at Rutgers when his accident occurred at the same stadium.
“Seeing the fans cheer for me meant a lot,” LeGrand said. “It touched my heart.”
The reception for LeGrand was spectacular, but visiting the stadium where he became paralyzed from the waist down during a tackle against Army wasn’t easy for LeGrand or his family. LeGrand had visited the stadium previously, but his mother Karen and other relatives that had been at the fateful game last year, had not.
“Today was the first time I actually realized where I got hurt at,” LeGrand said. Coming out of the tunnel onto the field with Sandy Montag–Senior Corporate Vice President of IMG Sports and Entertainment, which represents LeGrand–the place he considered “too upsetting” to think about, and the events of that fateful day, all flooded back to him.
“I said to Sandy, ‘This is where I was.’ …I drove by it, but I didn’t go exactly to it.”
For his mother, facing the stadium may have been even more challenging, considering she watched another young player, Devon Walker of Tulane, have a similar accident just a few weeks earlier on the television.
“My heart just dropped and I felt for his mom,” Karen LeGrand said. “To not even be in the same location, to be hundreds of miles away, has got to be a horrible feeling. It’s got to be the worst feeling ever.”
Walker had a head-on collision with another player while trying to make a tackle, and he underwent three hours of surgery. His long term prognosis is not clear.
Karen reached out to the Walker family via Tulane and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. The Reeve Foundation raises funds for research to find a cure for spinal cord injuries. Karen wanted to let the Walkers know that she was praying for Devon, and that she was there to help in any way she could.
The Walkers aren’t the only ones getting support from those involved in LeGrand’s accident and its aftermath. The Scarlet Knights coach, Kyle Flood, left phone messages for the Tulane coach, and Rutgers head athletic trainer David McCune reached out to his counterpart at Tulane as well.
LeGrand believes that his improvements are due, in part, to such support.
“Honestly, it’s the people who are around me every day,” said LeGrand, referring to his family, therapists, fellow spinal cord injury patients, and all the fans he meets in public and via social media. “They’re all showing support. There’s really no negativity in my life.”