The unprecedented double quaking of America’s suspect foundations — a worldwide pandemic and worldwide anger over the death of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis cop — has increased the volume of what we’ve been hearing for decades as sports reporters.
Sports are not that important. We work in the “toy department’’ of any newsgathering operation.
Long ago, this was heard as a simple observation made by Ray Fitzgerald, an exceptional Boston Globe sports columnist who died in 1982:
“Sports are important because people are there.”
This now requires an update, as we crawl forward in this age of pandemic and many sports events are returning with empty venues — without people, meaning:
“Sports are important because athletes are there.”
And with minuscule crowds and few TV ratings, you are permitted to become more intrigued by the resolute than the truly gifted. I had a one-man think session on such athletes recently and arrived at this question:
How resolute was a football player required to be to show up every week and do battle for the Minnesota Crookston Golden Eagles?
The Division II Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference changed its bylaws late last fall to make way for St. Cloud State to get rid of football. The official announcement was made Dec. 11 that the Huskies and Crookston were dropping football immediately.
The reality was St. Cloud went because it had an anti-football top administration, and Crookston went in as an act of administrative mercy. The 2019 season ended at 0-11 once again, including back-to-back losses vs. powers Minnesota State Mankato and Minnesota Duluth by a combined 144-0.
Yet, there were Golden Eagles seniors who showed up weekly to put up their best fight, to dream of repeating the glory of Sept. 22, 2018: a 29-22 victory at Minot [N.D.] State.
One senior was Joe Warner from St. Louis Park. He was a defensive tackle on all-NSIC North’s second team, the only Golden Eagle on the top 44. Another was Will Cross, a linebacker from Turtle Lake, Wis., and all-North honorable mention.
Warner played offensive line in junior college at Rochester Community and Technical College. He was a starter as a freshman when Rochester went to a national title game in 2015, sat out in 2016 and returned in 2017.
“I reached out to all the NSIC teams,” Warner said. “I still was completing my associate’s degree and that scared off schools. Crookston and Wayne State in Nebraska were the only two that were interested. Crookston gave me the financial help I needed to attend school.
“They also said, ‘We think you have the mobility and size for nose tackle.’ I was skeptical, but the coaches were right. I enjoyed playing defense.”
Even the double-teams while trying to stop outstanding running backs such as MSU Mankato’s Nate Gunn?
“We would get together as a D-line before the game and agree, ‘We can only control what we can control; we’re going to give our best effort today,’ ” Warner said.
Warner was working a summer job in Crookston last Aug. 1 when he received the worst call of his life. His mother, Yolanda Warner-Orina, had died unexpectedly at 46.
“She was the most important person I had in my life,” Warner said.
Warner returned to Crookston for football practice a few days after his mom’s funeral. “I couldn’t keep my thoughts together, even on the field,” he said. “Luckily, I had Will Cross behind me saying, ‘No, Joe, you’re here.’ He saved me.’ ”
Warner looks like a football player. Cross looks like an undersized player from Division 7 in Wisconsin, which is what he was at tiny Turtle Lake. He went to Crookston’s spring camp, then sprained an ankle playing pickup basketball, missed the other NSIC camps and accepted Crookston as his one chance to play Division II.
“I saw some outstanding athletes come in there, and when things didn’t go smooth, they didn’t want to play anymore,” Cross said. “I wasn’t going to leave. I wanted to see it get turned around.
“I believed that was possible. You have to believe in football. It’s a tough game that gets tougher without full effort.”
Cross was granted a sixth year of eligibility, through a medical redshirt, and is now at Lindenwood, a Division II school outside St. Louis. He was a redshirt when Crookston defeated Minot in 2015; then the Golden Eagles went 1-43 in his four seasons as a player.
“You’ll always have that win at Minot in 2018 as a Crookston player,’’ a reporter said.
Cross paused and said: “Actually, no. That’s the year I was hurt in the season opener. I wasn’t on the field that afternoon. I’m anxious to play in my first college victory this fall.”
That, folks, is resolute.
Write to Patrick Reusse by e-mailing email@example.com and including his name in the subject line.