Monday, February 04, 2008

Small-town football player wins Super Bowl and hearts of Oregonians

Oregon was far from the Super Bowl XLII in Arizona, and even more distant from where the New York Giants play their home games.

Yet, a lot of Oregon — especially rural Oregon — was cheering for Kevin Boss, a rookie tight end playing with the Giants.

Boss, a native of the small town of Philomath, Ore., had attended Division II Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Ore. He had been selected as a fifth-round draft pick, and earned a starting position with the team after his teammate — and mentor — Jeremy Shockey was injured.

You could almost hear the collective roar across the state when Boss made a key 45-yard catch from quarterback Eli Manning on the first play in the fourth quarter. It helped set up the Giants to get their first touchdown, and helped create the momentum that led the Giants to pull off an upset and defeat the New England Patriots who had a perfect record for all season.

In December, the New York Post had done a story about Boss. Talking about Shockey, Boss was quoted, “We’re both from small towns, we’re obviously a long way from a small town right now.”

However, Boss was never far from the minds of people who live in the Oregon small towns that developed a relationship with him over the years. Classmates, teammates, former teachers, friends, even people who might have occasionally just passed him on campus were eager to talk to the media about how much they respect and support Boss. From the comfort of their homes, to loud pubs, people cheered him on.

When Boss returns to Oregon, he’ll be treated as a hero in small towns and big cities. It didn’t matter if he didn’t catch a touchdown pass. Or that he wasn’t the most valuable player. Heck, even if he didn’t catch that 45-yard pass, people still would treat him royally when he returns.

He had shown that someone from an Oregon small town could train hard, persevere, and make it to the most important football game in the country. More importantly, he had proven a person can do this while still retaining the reputation of being respectable, a role model and someone who may one day serve as a mentor for other kids who are perhaps picking up a football for the first time.

This all seemed a great reminder of another small town Oregon hero who made headlines in the baseball world when his team won the World Series this past fall.

Jacoby Ellsbury, a rookie outfielder with the Boston Red Sox, is from Madras, Ore. The graduate from Oregon State University earned media attention for getting four hits in a World Series game, the first time in 61 years that a rookie had done this.

Both Ellsbury and Boss are more than a couple of lucky guys that got breaks when, during their rookie years, they ended up taking the place of others during the last key games of teams destined for victory.

They both contributed significantly to their teams, and earned kudos for being role models during a time when professional sports continues to be under so much scrutiny for the conduct of other athletes. They’ve opened the doors for more talented athletes from the rural West to be taken seriously, but also shown what real heroes can be for sports fans in the future.

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