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They Are Not Us

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It has been a tough stretch for those charitably termed "veterans" of our games.

On Sunday, Joe Paterno, the 84-year-old who's been coaching football at Penn State for 46 years, got blindsided and tumbled to the ground by a receiver running a pattern while Coach Paterno was watching the defense practice on the other side of the field.

"I'm doing fine," Coach Paterno said in a statement issued from the hospital. "Tell everyone not to worry about me."

On Tuesday morning, Diana Nyad, who is 62, was pulled from the ocean. She did not say, "I'm doing fine." While still in the water, she'd been saying "I'm hurting." When she got out, she was sick to her stomach. She had been trying to swim from Cuba to Florida. Some of the other things she said while she was still in the water suggested she was confused about how much longer she'd have had to swim to reach land. Asthma was apparently the problem that convinced Nyad and her support crew to squelch the adventure.

On the other side of the athletes' age continuum we find Leonel Angel Coira, who signed a contract this week with soccer giant Real Madrid. Leonel, nicknamed Leo, just like his hero and fellow Argentinian Lionel Messi, is 7 years old. Rather than begin second grade at home, he will start training with Real Madrid's youth team early next month, when he will be several weeks older.

Before she jumped into the water in Cuba, Diana Nyad claimed she was "at the prime of my life."

She isn't. Neither is Joe Paterno. And unless Leonel Angel Coira turns out to be the sort of prospect who burns out at 8, he's not at the prime of his life, either.

Which is what establishes these stories as contrasts to the usual sports fare: tales of the young, strong, and often wealthy competing against each other, week after week, or waiting to compete against each other during lockouts.

If you and I were football coaches, we'd retire well before we reached 84. If we'd been endurance swimmers, by 62 we'd making motivational speeches. If we were 7, we'd be looking forward to the next episode of Sesame Street.

But they are not us.

This program aired on August 10, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Bill Littlefield Twitter Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.

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