Okay, so I am an emotional guy. But there are some things that deserve tears. I actually wept as I typed this editorial. Jake’s Olson’s faith and courage are worthy of the tears of the strongest of men.
Olson is the blind University of Southern California Trojan football player who made the perfect snap that produced the wondrous kick that resulted in the final point in USC’s opening-day victory over the Western Michigan Broncos this past Saturday.
The Los Angeles Times reported that he will never see the films that recorded his grand contribution to his team’s final score, but “he felt the hugs, heard it in the roars, and basked in its triumph as he trotted from the Coliseum field into the arms of his Trojan teammates.”
Times reporter Bill Plaschke wrote, “The beauty washed over the overheated Coliseum with barely three minutes left Saturday in USC’s 49-31 victory over Western Michigan.
“Eight years after the USC football program adopted him … and three years after he joined the team as a walk-on Olson snapped the ball in an official game for the first time.”
Even though that one play in no way determined the outcome of the game, it was a moment in history that was far bigger than the game. It was bigger than the game for at least two reasons, maybe more.
Let me explain. Olson has been a Trojan fan all his life even though for much of his early life he battled cancer. When he was eight months old he was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer and the disease claimed his left eye before he was one year old. In November 2009 Jake lost his right eye after battling cancer for 12 years.
Jake wrote a book when he was eight years old to uplift and encourage other children who were battling cancer and other diseases.
During his last season as coach of the USC Trojans Pete Carroll, current coach of the Seattle Seahawks, took Jake “under his wings” and developed a special relationship with him. Jake requested and was granted the opportunity to spend his last day of sight with the coaches and players at USC. Six days after the surgery to remove his right eye he was back in the locker room with the USC football team to encourage them and bask in their favor.
Jake went to a Christian high school in Huntington Beach, CA and was a straight A student. He played on the football team as the long snapper. He also enjoys golf, skiing, surfing, and playing the guitar.
But let me get back to the two reasons that the USC-Western Michigan game was bigger than life. First, Clay Helton, the USC football coach, called Western Michigan’s head coach, Tim Lester, and told him that during the game they might be facing a blind center and requested that they respond with appropriate sensitivity. He said, “We will not rush your team on your first extra-point attempt if your team will not rush an extra-point attempt involving Olson.
Near the end of the game a USC defensive back intercepted a pass that dashed the Bronco’s upset chances, but Lester kept his part of the bargain. Before the Trojans extra point attempt, he called his defensive players together and according to The Times “gave them an impromptu speech that could serve as a manual for sportsmanship.”
Lester explained, “I told them the entire situation and said, ‘You can’t touch him, you can’t yell at him, everybody get down so it looks like a football play, but nobody move. What we are about to do is bigger than the game. This is about what kind of people we want to be, what we represent; this is bigger than us.’”
The team said, “Yes sir.”
That is the first indication that the extra point try was bigger than the game. Wouldn’t it be great if in our political arena, our commerce and business enterprises, and even in our churches we would become more gentile and gracious?
The second indication that the extra point attempt was bigger than the game focused on Olson himself. Olson was asked about his snap after the game and he said, “There was a beauty in it. If you can’t see how God works things out, I think you’re the blind one.”
Olson’s comment prompted me to do a bit of research and find out what makes him so special. It did not take much work to find out that he is a man with a faith that is steadfast and strong.
I saw a video in which Jake Olson said, “At a young age I learned that life will bring adversity and challenges. The biggest reason I have been able to overcome adversity and develop a positive attitude is because I have a strong faith in the Lord Jesus Christ…. Even though the cancer took my eyes, it didn’t take my will to go on and become the best I can be.”
Jake has had the opportunity to speak about his experiences and faith in front of corporations, schools, service organizations, and churches. Last summer he and his twin sister, Emma, went to Costa Rica on a mission trip to help build houses and encourage less-advantaged children.
Jake Olson reminds me of what Helen Keller once said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision.”