Hope (for Humanity) Springs Eternal at Spring Games

Paul Steinbach Headshot

There's a lot of humanity at college football spring games in 2013. The University of Kentucky drew 50,831 to its game last Saturday. That's 30,506 more fans than had ever seen the Wildcats scrimmage before, and that places Kentucky second in the current spring game attendance rankings. But not for long. Alabama, which tees it up tomorrow, has averaged 86,089 fans per spring game during the six-year Nick Saban era.

But there's another kind of humanity on display at these events this spring. At the University of Nebraska, which drew a nation-leading (so far) 60,174 fans to its game April 6, Red Team coach Bo Pelini faced a fourth-quarter 4th-and-1 decision and sent into the game a seven-year-old pediatric brain cancer patient named Jack Hoffman. Hoffman - wearing a replica Nebraska uniform and the same number 22 as his friend and favorite Husker, Rex Burkhead - took a handoff from quarterback Taylor Martinez, ran around right end and raced 69 yards to the end zone, where he was mobbed by both red and white jerseys. And the play has been played over and over - more than 7 million times on YouTube.

University of Massachusetts head football coach and avid runner Charley Molnar announced Wednesday that he would welcome individuals who had competed in Monday's tragically truncated Boston Marathon to "cross the finish line" at McGuirk Alumni Stadium during Saturday's UMass spring game (though it was unclear whether the game would be played as scheduled in light of the marathon bomber manhunt still unfolding as of this writing).

Next week, Rutgers, which has endured an unenviable spring on the public-relations front, will dedicate the final five minutes of its spring game to 22 select children affected last year by Hurricane Sandy. The players, chosen based on submitted essays or photos, will spend the second half on the sidelines with their respective teams before taking the field - and not merely in symbolic fashion. Those five minutes will be counted toward the outcome of the game.

Spring games, as AB has reported, have become like a second home game for major college football programs - a sort of unique fundraising opportunity.

This year, on at least three campuses, home truly is where the heart is.

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