From through the looking glass, free safety Neil Morrissey’s life could be considered peaches and cream. Coming off of a 2002 campaign that included 14 tackles and a huge 23-yard interception against Penn, Morrissey seems set for a phenomenal season. He’s starting, a senior, and majoring in Hotel Administration — how many of us aren’t envious of that?
But the truth is harsh.
The truth is, this season Morrissey will carry two scars with him; one is on his leg, the other is on his heart.
Last season, Morrissey went down during the Dartmouth game. His leg bothered him, but he played through it and finished the game. He went further, going two more games before realizing his injury was more serious than originally expected.
“I thought it was a sprained ankle, and I played with it through Columbia and Penn,” Morrissey said. “Around Thanksgiving I figured I really wasn’t moving like I should be.”
Which prompted the decision for surgery. Morrissey, however, experienced little relief with the fall of the knife. Instead, he was awash in injury, insecurity, and death. Last January, Morrissey’s family lost a friend to leukemia.
His friend was too young to die, too strong. Like Morrissey, he played football, and Neil will be the first to tell you he was gifted. Morrissey felt regret and remorse, but instead of turning away from the source of his misery, he made every effort to get back into playing form.
“I always thought about the opportunity to be a collegiate athlete,” said Morrissey. “It’s an opportunity he never had.”
Thanks to Morrissey’s efforts, it’s an opportunity that someday, another child will.
As if winning the Ivy title wasn’t enough motivation, Morrissey and the Red have recently teamed up with the Tompkins County Trust Company to form “Touchdowns for Hope.” Under the partnership, the Trust Company will donate $100 to the American Cancer Society for every Cornell touchdown scored this season.
The event has also changed Morrissey personally. Knowing that he was already far behind in the race for starting free safety, he picked up the pace in his training. This winter, Morrissey watched his friend fade and die. This summer, Morrissey picked up his friend’s memory and carried it as his personal flag. This summer, Morrissey spent day-in, and day-out rehabbing his injury with the Cornell Sports Medicine staff. While strength and conditioning coach Tom Howley may have been the one pushing Morrissey physically, it was his friend’s memory that pushed him mentally.
“He’s always helped me get through rehab,” Morrissey said, “and knowing that I have that opportunity he never did — it motivates me.”
Cornell opens its football season at home this weekend, and while the players will tell you all that matters is getting their first victory, they are mistaken. Morrissey has already made them all winners. Together, he and the team are beating cancer.
“I don’t want to have a regret this year,” Morrissey said. “I don’t want to think back and say ‘should’ve, could’ve, would’ve.’ I don’t want to have a single one of those thoughts.
“I want to come back here and know that I laid it out on the line.”
In the eyes of cancer patients everywhere, I think he already has.
Matt Janiga is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor and can be contacted at [email protected]. No. 12 Bus will appear every other Wednesday this semester.
Archived article by Matt Janiga