PROVO — The BYU-Utah State game wasn’t supposed to be played Tuesday night. It was originally to be on Dec. 5. However, the game was postponed after Aggie player Danny Berger collapsed at practice and stopped breathing the day before. He had to be revived and was listed in critical condition at the hospital. Three days later he was released, held a press conference, watched his teammates play and now is working towards one day returning to the floor.
Fast forward to Tuesday night — BYU senior walk-on Craig Cusick was not having one of his better games as the Cougars were battling Utah State in the rescheduled contest. Unbeknownst to the fans at the Marriott Center and those watching at home, Cusick was playing in pain. Not the physical kind, but the deep emotional kind one feels when he receives the horrible news that someone very close to him, a person who raised him, cared for him, coached him and molded him into the young man he is today, had been diagnosed with the awful disease no one wants to hear — cancer. Cusick’s father Randy collapsed on Sunday. Doctors found a tumor and determined just hours before his son was supposed to take the floor that it was cancerous.
Yet despite the shock and the many questions rolling through his head, Cusick did what he always does. He put on his BYU uniform and played the game he loved.
With just 31 seconds to play and the game tied at 68, Cusick had missed all six of the shots he had taken on the night. Clearly, with the likes of Tyler Haws, Matt Carlino and Brandon Davies on the floor, he was not going to be the first, second or even third option to take the potential game winner. In fact, with the way he had played, some could question why he was still on the court.
But then it happened. Carlino dribbled the clock down and proceeded to pull up for a three at the top of the key. It hit off the front rim and Cusick somehow, someway, positioned himself to be in the perfect spot to get the rebound and in one quick fluid motion drained the game winning shot. The crowd erupted, the players celebrated, BYU won.
"As a player, you couldn't dream it any better," said Cusick after the game. "I was just fortunate. … I saw that when Matt shot it there was a chance it would be a little bit short. I ran to where I thought it was going to come off and I was fortunate."
A day that had started as a nightmare ended as a fairy tale dream. At least for that brief moment. But as Cusick told ESPN on Wednesday during his appearance on SportsCenter, he was back at his father’s side at midnight, reliving the shot that his dad watched bedside from his hospital room. And then they looked at each other — and cried. Cusick's dad told him he was going to fight through his battle with cancer just like his son did on the court fighting through adversity to win the game.
This is sports. It provides us entertainment and drama. The ultimate highs and truly the biggest lows. It’s reality television in the truest sense — unfiltered, undoctored. And in Berger and Cusick’s case, it is truly personal. One player stops breathing and is near death only to bounce back. The other hits the game winner hours after his dad is diagnosed with cancer. It’s as real as it gets. It’s a true reflection of life.
So as the fans were high-fiving and hugging one another in the stands, and others were screaming at their TVs in celebration, all for Cusick’s shot and the excitement of just winning the “game” — for Berger, it’s about gratitude with a second chance at life and the hope that he can play the game again one day. For Cusick and his dad, it provided another bonding opportunity to to go along with a lifetime of other great moments shared together with the hope of many more to come.
Kevin Graham co-hosts Gunther and Graham 3pm-7pm on 1320 KFAN. He is also the founder and editor of www.SportsMashup.com. You can follow him on Twitter @KevinGrahamKFAN and like him on Facebook (SportsMashup).