June 10, 2016

BLOG: Keeping up

June 10, 2016

A football team – the players, coaches, and staff – are a large family. They spend hours upon hours every day together. They joke, laugh, fight and make up.

Yes, at the end of the day, every one down in football ops has one goal. Coach O’Shea frequently reminds his team, “everyone is this room is responsible for winning. “With every decision you make, you do it with this question in mind. Is this going to help us win?”

But beyond winning, the family aspect is an important one, and as we all know, the game of football can be a mean one. Buck Pierce, who was one of the toughest guys I’ve ever worked with, once had a great line when talking about an injury; “you love football and sometimes football doesn’t love you back.”

But your teammates, your organization, and sometimes even players and fans across the league certainly do.

Jeff Keeping

This is all to say that what transpired early in the second quarter of Wednesday’s preseason game shook me, and many on the sidelines, to the core.

Following an offensive play early in the quarter, all we could see from the sidelines was a massive guy – clearly an offensive lineman – down on the field. When we looked closer, we saw that he was clutching his knee – usually an immediate cause for major concern.

And yes, there’s ALWAYS concern when a player on your team, or the other for that matter, goes down. But the reality is, when it’s a veteran CFL player, someone who has the respect of everyone in the league and has done so much for our game, the concern heightens even more.

Jeff KeepingSomeone on the sideline asked “who is that?” The reply was what no one wanted to hear: “it’s **** Keep.”

The player turned around because he couldn’t look any further, and the sideline fell silent.

To Bomber fans, Jeff Keeping may be a little-known guy who has played out east for the last decade. But to the players and many who have known him for years, he’s what the CFL is all about.

I looked over at Rory Kohlert, and then Pat Neufeld, and the look we all shared was one of devastated sickness. Jeff Keeping is a guy who knows how to win. Jeff Keeping is a guy who knows how to bring a team together and to do things the right way. That’s one of the reasons we brought him in this offseason – not just because of his on-field play.

Al CoutureI walked over to Head Athletic Therapist Al Couture after he was done assessing Jeff, who I should mention walked off on his own despite clearly being in a severe amount of pain. Al wasn’t ready to commit to anything yet, which is usually the first positive sign that it may not be a season-ending injury (Al is the best in the league at what he does, and it’s not even close).

After a few minutes of further assessment, our doctors wanted to bring him inside for further testing. Jeff didn’t want a cart, so he walked all the way to the tunnel and to our locker room, with one doctor supporting him on either side.

When we returned at halftime, he was still in the doctors’ room being evaluated, and by the start of the third quarter, the fear that Jeff’s season may be over had turned to optimism that it may be a less severe, but still very painful injury.

Yes – the long-time veteran will not be available to us on the field for a couple of months. But it’s a long season, and his leadership with the younger offensive linemen, and really the entire roster overall, will still be paramount.

Midway through the third quarter, I took a walk back into our locker room to see him quickly. He was sitting in his locker with ice taped around his knee, head down.

I sat down next to him and only then did he lift his head.

“Hey man, keep your head up, it sounds like it could’ve been a lot worse,” I told him.

His reply stuck with me, and likely will for a long time.

“I was in so much pain, man. I told myself, ‘I’m not getting carted off the field if it’s the last time I’m ever out here. Get your ass up’.”

Jeff Keeping

Jeff Keeping is the type of guy you win championships with – and for. See you back out there sooner rather than later, Keep.


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