Jake Olsen, a 12-year old who knew he was soon going to be totally blind, took the news with a very mature and pragmatic attitude.
Instead of feeling sorry for himself, or questioning why, Jake took the news in stride as he readied himself for the impending surgery that would leave him completely blind.
After the surgery, he said about watching football, “It’s kind of more fun to actually hear the hits than to actually see the hits.”
His left eye had been removed years earlier after it was learned he had been inflicted with retinoblastoma.
Before the surgery to remove his right eye, Jake only asked that he be able to see a USC football game.
Pete Carroll, now the Seattle Seahawks head coach, was the coach at he time and he embraced Jake, as did the rest of the USC team.
Jake, along with his parents and family were able to travel to the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco that year against Boston College.
Earlier, ESPN had chronicled the surgical experience of Jake for viewers which was one of the most inspirational journalistic pieces ever done.
Brian’s Song, starring James Caan and Billy Dee Williams might be, arguably, slightly better for an older generation.
Having been credentialed for the game I knew that I might have an opportunity to get a shot of Jake at the game in a post-game setting; little did I know that the opportunity would find me, instead of having to track down the photo-op I sought.
At game’s end, I knew I had to get the shot of the coaches at midfield.
The rain, which had been falling all game, made for an additional hazard that might preempt any opportunity for the Jake Olsen photo I was seeking.
After finally getting to midfield on the slippery turf, turning around as the USC band was preparing the usual post-game song, there was Jake Olsen, all of 5’ 8” of him, with the sunglassses and walking stick, right at my feet, at an arms length away.
It was so surreal, having just seen the story on ESPN, to see him live, right in front of me.
Now, I have shot many pro, famous, and bigger-than-life athletes before and, with the exception of Wilt Chambertlain, Dr J and Don Mattingly, no one leaves me with a feeling of wonderment as Jake Olsen did that night.
With the misty rain falling, the San Francisco bay fog approaching over the outfield wall, Jake, with help, found a USC lineman, put his arm around a the lineman’s waist as best he could and faced the USC band, sightless, to participate in the traditional ceremony that follows each USC game, win or lose.
Nothing special. No frills or other media types in sight, just a kid, college football player, a fight song,
……and a winner.
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