SALT LAKE CITY — At 9 years old, my middle son is a big Ty Jordan fan — as much as one can be in a five-game season.
And really, it doesn’t even have much to do with Jordan or where he played, either — at least not entirely. You see, my son is a fan of every player that isn’t the prototypical size for the sport they play. He calls them “Tiny Guys.” And he cheers for all of them as if he’s a card-carrying member of some elite club.
Jose Altuve, prior to Houston’s cheating ordeal, was another such Tiny Guy my son rooted for with all his might when he saw him play, even though Houston has never been his favorite MLB team.
My son considers himself one of those Tiny Guys and is actually really self-conscious about his size, even though he’s not much smaller than his peers. But it’s still something that he worries about in his young mind.
So when he sees athletes like Jordan, a 5-foot-7 running back, who excels at his sport, there’s no holding him back. And as a result, I, too, am a fan of Jordan.
Not as a sports fan, per se, or even because he’s someone I’ve briefly gotten to know over the last couple of months he was at the University of Utah as I’ve reported on his success.
No, it’s because my son is a fan.
Due to the ongoing pandemic and the lack of in-person contact with players, I elected to not travel to Utah’s road games this year. As a result, I reported on the road games from my couch as my family watched close by, including my son who can’t get enough of the sport.
That’s where my son quickly grew an affinity for Jordan. Every down, he’d cheer for Utah to give Jordan the ball. And when Jordan broke off for a big run or scored a touchdown, my son celebrated like it was the final play to win the Super Bowl.
He’d run up and give me a hug after each one — the kind of hug that is all-embracing and full of pure joy — as if he just made the play.
When I’d interview players and coaches after the game and during the week, my son would run into my home office and ask if I got to interview Jordan that day. And if I did, he had the biggest grin on his face as if he somehow got the same opportunity to talk to one of his heroes. And if I didn’t, it was a sense of frustration that Utah was limiting his access.
He didn’t ever know what was said in the interviews or even know if I was making it all up, but the connection was still there for him. It was enough to know that one of his Tiny Guys was being recognized.
And on Saturday, when we woke to the news of Jordan’s untimely and tragic death, it was my son that was the most devastated and the one repeatedly asking how he died — almost as if his asking could alter the circumstances if he just knew more.
But sometimes, life isn’t fair and we’re left with more questions than answers. Questions about his potential, questions about the loss his family feels, questions about why a talented and humble kid who just wanted to make his mom, who recently died of cancer, proud could be taken so soon.
Sometimes the Tiny Guys can’t have it all, but we’re blessed just knowing them in their pursuit of something bigger — literally and figuratively — than them.
So while many will focus on the tragic loss to the game of football — it was and it is — there’s more of a lasting impact on at least my family because of who he was. Jordan was a fighter and someone that didn’t let obstacles get in his way, or stop him from pushing forward.
His was only a brief playing career, but Jordan’s small and limited impact will be forever felt.
Jordan said he played to make his mom proud, and she no doubt would have been.
But if my son is any indication, there’s a lot more out there that are proud to have known him, even if for just a brief moment. He’ll always have a special place as one of the great Tiny Guys.
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