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All That Jazz

On paper, evaluating the loss of Jasper Howard is relatively straight forward. He was apparently replaced in the lineup by a freshman. How will that player perform? Secondly, are there any similar cases of players losing teams to tragic deaths during the season? For instance, take the most immediately salient example of Miami's Bryan Pata from back in 2006. Miami proceeded to lose its next two games on the road, before winning its next game at the Orange Bowl.

There's certainly an emotive aspect this coming game, although I think it will be difficult to quantify. Certainly, everyone expects the home crowd in Storrs to be a proverbial "twelth man". There can be a downside to that, however; fall down a little early, start pressing, and just exacerbate your mistakes. UConn was on the road in Morgantown last Saturday, but this example isn't that far-fetched, considering that's exactly what they did against West Virginia. UConn gained far more total yardage in that game, but gave it away on turnovers and miscues.

Not that I necessarily believe this will happen, but suppose the Huskies are so overcome with grief that they come out listless and flat? What if Tim Brown and Antonio Lowery (who were personal friends of Howard's) step up their games to an even higher level? All in all, this factor isn't easy to predict, and has a lot of morbid connotations. My preference is to analyze the game based solely on on-field factors.

I'm also not looking forward to the post-game headlines. Regardless of the outcome, any result will be directly attributed to the Howard factor. It completely removes any notion of agency, and that could not be more misleading. With all due respect to Howard, who fell in a senseless, unspeakable tragedy, the Huskies do have to pick themselves up and play another game on Saturday. The game will be won or lost based on personnel, schemes, and yes, a little bit of luck. It's more than a little disingenuous to deny credit or blame to specific individuals, and the various causal factors at play. If UConn wins, it's to honor Howard. If UConn loses, it's because they were emotionally drained and whatnot. No! The game will be won or lost based on which team ends up making more plays.

In fact, I'd like to think that if Howard was indeed as reputable and dignified as all available information indicates that he was, that his spirit of competitiveness would want all the players involved to give their all, and win or lose the game on the merits. That's how I want to remember Jazz Howard. Not as a victim, or a rallying cry soaked with implications of regret and loss. As a (somehow, all the usual, cliched combat-related football nouns seem wildly inappropriate and non-fitting) talented player who more than earned all of his accomplishments. It's not asking for all that much for his surviving peers to be granted that same level of honor and dignity.