Bryant's strength a lesson for us all

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

I've had a third-string tight end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Tyji Armstrong) threaten to throw me in the Gulf of Mexico, covered the Rae Carruth horror story and spent countless hours listening to agents who would lie, cheat and steal just to get a few extra dollars in their commission.

When you've been a sports writer for a couple of decades, you become jaded. First, you're schooled to "cover the story, not be the story'' and after you see the ugly underbelly of big-time sports, you sort of get numb to it all and it's easy to keep an emotional distance.

Then, along comes Matt Bryant and what the Tampa Bay kicker did Sunday and there's no way you can stay numb, no way you can't feel emotion.

I've covered more than a dozen Super Bowls, written about college bowl games and chronicled the final Celtics game in the old Boston Garden. I've seen history, but forgotten most of it because I wasn't able to feel it.

I felt it Sunday as I watched Bryant on the field at Raymond James Stadium and, more important, listened to him in the media room after the Bucs defeated the Green Bay Packers. It was far from the best game I've ever seen, but it was easily the most memorable.

A day after burying his infant son, Matthew Tryson, Bryant went out and kicked three field goals, including the game-winner. Bryant then walked into the media room, looking dazed, and talked about how he played because he wanted to honor Tryson and admitted he had a running dialogue (in his head) with his son throughout the game.

You couldn't possibly sit in that room and not feel your heart coming apart. I went back upstairs and wrote my column. Ordinarily, that would have been the end of it. But you don't just move on from something like this.

In the 20 or so hours since that column went up, the comments section has been filled up with beautiful thoughts for Bryant and my mailbag has received more letters than on any day since it started a couple months ago. As of this moment, I've received five letters from readers who also lost children.

Every one of them talked about how you never lose the pain, but you do what you can to get by. Every one of them made me realize what I witnessed yesterday wasn't a football game.

It was a lesson in life for all of us. It would be easy to make Bryant a story of tragedy and triumph, but that wouldn't be accurate. You couldn't hear any triumph in Bryant's voice or see any on his blank face as he spoke. Three field goals don't just wipe out a tragedy. A million more field goals won't even do that.

That's what makes Bryant's story so powerful. It's real and it's raw emotion. You've got to learn from it.

The people who wrote about losing children have never met Bryant and they probably never will. Yet, they're all faced with the common daily challenge of doing what they have to do to get by.

More than anything -- and this is what separates Bryant and those people from a lot of other athletes and the fantasy world we've all created -- they're human beings. They're real.
And they're a whole lot stronger than some myth who can go out and bench press 400 pounds.