Whatever bond the two might have had changed right then and there on the Meadowlands turf on a cool October day in 2010.
Eric LeGrand lay there motionless. Greg Schiano stood above him, praying.
Schiano has spoken at length about how that day changed him as a man and as a coach. How it changed his relationship with LeGrand, paralyzed from the neck down after he made a tackle against Army that day. In that one devastating moment, football meant less than humanity, brotherhood, family. All the little things Schiano spoke about every day at Rutgers meant living them out in more ways than he, LeGrand and every single player on the roster could have ever imagined.
So what Schiano, who is now the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' coach, did Wednesday morning seemed incredibly fitting, in his symbolic signing of LeGrand as a Tampa Bay Buccaneers free agent. Downright amazing, really, given the cynical times we live in today. More than ever, sports is about business. We hear it all the time. Schiano made a business decision when he left Rutgers for Tampa Bay with time ticking down to national signing day.
The future four-team playoff will be terrific for business. Branding stadiums is about business. Increasingly, bottom lines are all that matters. Fans are having a harder time finding good intentions without raising their eyebrows and wondering if there is something else going on behind the scenes.
But then a story like this comes along, and we are reminded of what we love about sports. The brotherhood, determination, hard work, perseverance, love, joy. Dreams coming true.
"Coach Schiano is like a father figure," LeGrand said on a conference call. "Going into Rutgers as a little boy and coming out a man. When you're faced with adversity, he's not going to say you back down at all. You deal with whatever it is. In life, you can't control what cards you're dealt. That's what's helped me through my whole situation. Sometimes it's hard, but I think about all the stuff I was taught at Rutgers. You fight through it. Tough times don't last. Only tough people do."
One of the biggest regrets Schiano had about moving on to Tampa Bay was leaving LeGrand behind. The two have grown incredibly close. Schiano has helped with the Believe Fund that was set up to help LeGrand. He helped get LeGrand into the radio and television booth for games to begin a sports broadcasting career. Schiano had LeGrand lead the team onto the field before the West Virginia game last year, the one-year anniversary of the injury.
Schiano also has lobbied for the elimination of kickoffs, the play that ended up changing LeGrand's life.
It is incredibly easy to see Schiano has been his biggest champion. So it is easy to see why Schiano and the Bucs decided to sign LeGrand, announcing the move on May 2 in honor of the No. 52 LeGrand wore at Rutgers. Tampa Bay has shipped a No. 52 jersey up to New Jersey for LeGrand along with a helmet.
For his part, LeGrand had no idea Schiano was going to do this. The two still talk about once a week, but Schiano never mentioned he had planned on signing him. Schiano called his mother Monday and told her his plan. She got off the phone with Schiano and merely told her son, "Coach is going to call you tomorrow. Make sure you are by your phone."
The phone rang Tuesday afternoon. LeGrand picked it up and got the news. His response: "Are you serious?"
"He said, 'It's the least we can do,'" LeGrand recalled. "[I said] 'I don't know what to say to you right now. Coach, this is amazing.' This is something I always dreamed about. Dreams do come true if you really believe. He did this out of the kindness of his heart, and he wanted to do it. I had no idea this was going to happen."
"I really appreciate it. Just shows the man he is."