The injury to quarterback Munchie Legaux serves as a reminder of a need to enjoy the games and appreciate the players who play them.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Anthony McClung arrived at Cincinnati with Munchie Legaux. They became roommates first, nearly inseparable second. Almost every day they talk. McClung will head over to Legaux's house or vice versa.
Every player on this tight Bearcats team considers Legaux a brother, but McClung takes that further.
"That's really like his blood brother," Ralph David Abernathy IV said.
When McClung turned around hearing a player had been injured on a fourth quarter incomplete pass Saturday at Illinois, he couldn't believe what he witnessed.
"My heart dropped," McClung said. "That's my best friend."
McClung, a vibrant, loquacious senior, hesitated at much explanation of what he witnessed soon after.
Illinois players instantly waved and screamed for trainers, the entire UC sideline immediately moved out to gather around Legaux on one knee as all medical personnel worked the situation.
As seconds turned into minutes, dead silence hung over 43,031 inside Zuppke Field.
"It's just a horrible, horrible scene," linebacker Greg Blair said. "Just seeing him squirm around in pain, that was one of the worst things I've ever seen."
Those injuries are discussed, replayed and prayed about on a regular basis in this sport. In this brutal game, physical pain comes with the territory.
But it's different when it's your brother.
It's different when it's your best friend.
"I had to leave," McClung said. "I couldn't continue to watch that. I couldn't do it."
Minutes earlier different emotions blanketed the visitor sideline. Frustration, anxiety and tension surrounded the Bearcats one week after building lofty expectations one touchdown at a time in the 35-point blowout against Purdue. Now, those deflated at the same interval seven days later.
Then with one play, one pass, one hit, the true reality of the game we watch and these kids play appears directly in front of us - hanging unattached.
It is just a game.
In that moment, the issues with a defense that allowed 522 yards and the most points since 2011 meant nothing. An offense that committed five false start penalties and referees who controversially overturned a possible touchdown on the goal line evaporated.
The reality of the human condition and true perspective behind why this game necessitates perspective drove off on the back of a cart, leg extensively wrapped, towel draped over face en route to an overnight stay at Carle Foundation Hospital.
"It went from me thinking about man, we could still win this game to, 'Dang, what if that was me? That could have been me,'" Blair said. "Your whole mindset just changes from trying to win a game to wondering how long he's going to be out, can he play again? It just humbles you. Every game you have to play every play like it's your last. We know we play a dangerous sport but it hurts when we see one of our brothers go down like that."
This is Legaux's senior season. One in which his enthusiasm lifted UC out of Higher Ground and past Purdue. The same player pulled last season for Kay only needed to be told he'd have an opportunity when Tommy Tuberville took over. From then, all he did was play. That's all he wanted to do.
Though often an object of fan criticism, the humble kid with the creole drawl and unique name only wanted a chance to show he could grow, to show he could be better than mistakes made in the past.
He just wanted to play football.
So, he did, without complaint and eventually took over the starting quarterback job by surprise. Even on this day, he sparked the Bearcats by running four plays in a row because other methods proved ineffective. His team needed to pop off the mat of a 21-point deficit and he was the leader.
He'd later take off outside on fourth-and-goal down 11 and see two linebackers awaiting him at the end zone. The skinny speedster lowered his head and attempted to bury through. It appeared he made it, but that tough call would be far from his mind hours later.
As football games unfold, they are given the utmost importance and draw criticism from every angle. With so much money, time and energy invested, those come with the territory. Yet, often Twitter belittles 20-year-olds with families, friends and a desire to better themselves 140-characters at a time.
Passion of a fan base too often crosses the line between spirit and sickness. Few experienced that more than Legaux. And by association, McClung.
"That comes with being the quarterback, when you win they are going to praise you; when you lose it's basically your fault," McClung said. "He doesn't pay attention to any of what happens in the media, he just goes out and plays football. That's what he's here to do. He's a quarterback. He likes playing under pressure. He showed that."
He didn't care. He only wanted to play. Thus, what made the scene Saturday such a difficult reality.
The support of coaches, players and staff provided a glimpse of what's made the Bearcats successful over the last five years, on and off the field. The tight-knit unit has made a living overcoming recruiting stars and high-profile opponents with team chemistry.
They believe going forward its what will help them push through a day where the loss to Illinois now seemed a footnote.
"He was our starting quarterback," Abernathy said. "That's our brother. We are family. We are just so close as a team, as a unit. It's sad to see something like that happen. If he's out for the season we will dedicate this season to him."
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