Chip Scoggins: In crisis, game fades to background

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 11, 2011 - 12:05 AM

A seizure suffered by Gophers coach Jerry Kill during the team's final drive was a reminder of more important things than winning or losing.

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Rebecca Kill, wife of Gophers coach Jerry Kill, watched as medics worked on her husband after he had a seizure near the end of the game Saturday.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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The Gophers football team lost their home opener Saturday, but the outcome felt meaningless. So did the details.

We don't care about MarQueis Gray's errant throws, a pass defense filled with holes or the Gophers' inability to get 1 yard when they needed it to tie the score. Not right now at least.

We'll save all that for another day, another time. As serious as we treat this stuff, football is just a game, nothing more. If we needed a reminder of that, it came with 20 seconds left in Saturday's 28-21 loss to New Mexico State.

As the Gophers prepared for a fourth-down play, an unknown commotion along their sideline quickly became a sad and frightening scene.

Head coach Jerry Kill, a cancer survivor with a history of seizures, was on the ground having convulsions. Team doctors, athletic trainers and on-site medical personnel sprang into action and began immediate treatment.

The seriousness of the situation quickly spread to the bleachers where the roughly 30,000 fans who were still in TCF Bank Stadium watched in a stunned and uncertain silence. You could hear a pin drop in the stadium as medics hovered over Kill and struggled to keep him down as he thrashed.

Kill's wife, daughter and mother rushed to the field and stood beside him. The episode lasted less than five minutes, but it felt like an eternity. You felt helpless, not sure what to do or say.

People suffer seizures every day, but we don't see them often in this setting, on a football sideline.

Once Kill was medicated and stabilized, he was carted off the field to a waiting ambulance and then to a hospital. But how do you go back to football?

Assistant coaches told players that Kill was OK and stable as he left the field. But it was hard to put out of your mind what had just happened.

The scoreboard showed 20 seconds left and fourth down. It was a strange atmosphere. Should fans cheer, yell, remain quiet? The reaction was basically no reaction as Gray's wild pass attempt as he was being hit had no chance of being completed.

Fans stood up at that point and left, mostly quiet.

Afterward, Gophers players tried to put a brave face on the situation, saying they were informed about Kill's history of seizures before the season. They were told it could happen again. But hearing that and seeing it in front of you are two entirely different things.

They were scared. You could see it on their faces. And sad. How could they not be? Nobody wants to see their head coach - or anyone -- in that situation.

Kill has suffered seizures before and never missed a game, we were told. His top assistants vowed to keep a routine in place for however long Kill is sidelined. Players talked about sticking together.

"Unfortunately, the bad part is we have been through this before, but I think that's also a blessing because we've been able to handle this," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said.

Kill is tough as nails and a survivor, so you know darn well he'll want to grab his whistle and return to the field as soon as possible. That's just who he is.

But as I watched him struggle on the field, I couldn't help but think of the gesture he made a few hours earlier.

We wrote about Kill's relationship with 10-year Mia Gerold in Saturday's paper. Mia has a rare form of brain cancer that is inoperable. Kill invited Mia to lead his team onto the field before the game, which she did, holding Kill's hand the entire way.

That moment lifted your spirits. What happened at the end of the game left you numb.

Team doctor Pat Smith said he expects Kill to make a full recovery. It's unknown when he'll return.

The Gophers performance Saturday revealed major flaws that need to be fixed. They were 20-point favorites and laid an egg in their home opener. There will be plenty of time to deconstruct everything that is wrong with this team. But Saturday was not the time.

Football took a backseat to something far more important.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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