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bsn BSN: Despite disease, memories of McCartney everlasting

Discussion in 'CU Buffs Newsroom' started by RSSBot, Aug 2, 2016.

  1. RSSBot

    RSSBot News Junkie

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    Witnessing the onset and ultimate progression of dementia, associated with Alzheimer’s Disease or not, took my grandmothers away from me, from my memories of growing up.

    That is perhaps the most cruel nature of dementia and Alzheimer’s, the reversal of memory loss. Once sharp, witty, wholly cognizant loved ones fade toward unrecognized behavior and personalities, at times blurring out our own memories of who they used to be—who they always were, maybe still are, beyond the conditions.

    On Monday morning, the University of Colorado—via the McCartney family—issued an update on the health of former head coach and College Football Hall of Fame member Bill McCartney, announcing his diagnosis of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. It was news that disillusioned the college football world, Buffs fans everywhere, and without a doubt, his loved ones. It felt like just yesterday that memories of McCartney were being shared in line with the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, “The Gospel According to Mac,” bringing national focus to the Colorado program and its former national title-winning coach.

    But that too is what can be so harrowing about this disease. There are moments that make you wonder just how real it all is. When fans or admirers see McCartney on national television reliving stories with the same bravado that he has always displayed since his coaching days were done, it’s difficult to imagine that same man humbled by dementia. It’s nearly unfathomable to think that, one day, McCartney might not be able to share those same memories with others, not even his former players.

    One of those former players just happens to be one of the most visual sports media personalities in the Denver market. BSN Denver’s Ryan Koenigsberg caught up with Charles Johnson on Monday to get his reaction to the news.

    “My immediate reaction is to pick up the phone and call Coach Mac,” said Johnson. “Just to hear his voice because the impact of that voice, on my soul, is huge.

    “I don’t necessarily need to tell him anything. Just hear that voice. He always concludes the convo with saying, ‘CJ, I pray for you every day.’ I would love to reassure Coach Mac in these times in which he’s battling this disease that I am, and probably millions of people, are praying for him.”

    As most know, I’m still a young man—not yet even 30-years-old at time of publishing. The times any of us spend with our grandparents are often linked to our childhood, when they would babysit us or show up to our high school graduation. For three of my four grandparents, I never had those memories. My father’s mother, Anita, still had her flashes of Brooklyn sass in my late teens, but that continued to fade before she eventually passed on in my early 20s. Through those final years, I found myself attempting to reckon my relationship with her. How could I forgive her for some events, while asking for forgiveness for others? These are the questions we often face when dealing with terminal disease, family member or not.

    So, too, have many had to reckon their relationship with McCartney. On one hand, he’s the coach who brought forth the most storied and successful stretch of football the Colorado program has ever seen. On the other, his well-documented views on society have been divisive, to say the least.

    It often feels like we’re supposed to choose one lasting image, a lasting impact that someone had on our lives. But no lasting image or impact exists inside of a vacuum, with every life having its share of complexity or even controversy.

    “I didn’t always agree with Coach Mac. He’s stubborn in his position, stubborn in his love,” Johnson said.

    For me, I don’t have many memories of McCartney-led Colorado football teams. I know the legacy well, sure, but I wasn’t glued to my television watching Deon Figures seal the Buffs’ win over Notre Dame in the 1990 Orange Bowl. Many, however, do have those memories and were glued to television sets for games like that. Many packed the stands of Folsom Field to watch the players McCartney recruited to Boulder, to cheer on their university or alma mater.

    It is through those people that the memory of Bill McCartney becomes everlasting. It is through those people that in 50 years, people associated with the University of Colorado and its athletic department will know and remember his name.

    Other than blood, his players may carry the most telling story. It is through them that McCartney’s legacy, however complicated and controversial and even convoluted it may be, lives on every day.

    “He gave me an opportunity as an undersized quarterback, a black quarterback, quite frankly,” Johnson explained. “He instilled a confidence in me. He always told me that he believed in me. The thing I loved about Bill McCartney—when you talk about integrity—is he was the same with the first team All-American recruit as he was with the last guy who walked on his football team. To bear witness to that is everything. People know about Coach Mac’s religious beliefs, but Mac was a guy that lived as a sermon. There’s a saying that I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day. That’s what we witnessed with Bill McCartney.

    “I choose to look at this as a challenge that he and his loved ones face right now. He may live to see more of this world than myself. We’re not going to kill that guy off, he won’t allow us to.”

    William Whelan
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