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Herrion tragedy tough on all of us

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It makes no sense to me that former Ute lineman Thomas Herrion is gone at 23. That a well-conditioned athlete, full of vitality, would die so abruptly. So I'm doing what everyone does when these things happen: I'm searching for reasons, sorting through the details for something I can use.

Aside from the fact that, according to his family and friends, he lived a good life, the only thing I can come up with is this: His death gave us perspective.

And we thought getting a point guard for the Jazz or replacing Alex Smith was important.

Herrion's death last week after a game in Denver taught us — one more time — it's only sports.

Contrary to popular opinion, most journalists don't enjoy tragic stories. A plane crash, kidnapping or the unexpected death of an athlete hits home to reporters, too. They also have families and friends. Dealing with death isn't easy for anyone; often it's hard to find something to say that isn't trite. But in the case of journalists, they are sometimes required to say something anyway.

So my contribution to the Herrion tragedy isn't terribly original. But it is sincere. I hate when someone loses a son, especially at a young age. But at least it provides a priority check for those left behind.

It reminds us that whether the Jazz get back into playoffs isn't all that important.

I didn't know Herrion. It isn't often columnists get to know offensive linemen on a college football team. They aren't high profile guys. I didn't even know Jordan Gross, the former Utah lineman who went on to play in

the NFL. It's one of those things. How often do you write about someone who never scores a touchdown, makes a tackle or kicks a field goal?

But I do know those who knew Herrion, and they say he was a happy man who sang and joked and made those around him happy, too.

I know, as well, that even though football was a big part of him, it's not all he was.

He would have been special even if he'd never put on a helmet.

These sorts of ruminations, of course, occur only occasionally.

They happen when someone we know dies, but particularly when it involves someone in athletics; something about their seeming invincibility. They occurred when BYU assistant basketball coach Lynn Archibald died of cancer in 1997. Yes, the media reported his coaching accomplishments, but most of it was about the type person he was. The fact that he was a well-known coach didn't seem terribly important.

Something similar happened when Jerry Sloan's wife, Bobbye, passed away last year. It was mostly about her life, not her status as wife of a famous coach.

Herrion's death reminds us again that it really doesn't matter much whether the Utes return to the Fiesta Bowl or BYU gets back to winning. It tells us that if Herrion had made the 49ers roster this year, it would have been nice for him but not all-important.

Acquaintances say Herrion loved life and was someone people wanted to be around, because he was optimistic and friendly. His death illustrates that sports should be enjoyed, even relished, but never put at the top of the priority list.

My mother died in 1997. Her funeral was the day after the Jazz lost Game 6 of the NBA Finals to Chicago. I remember going back home after the funeral, to the place where she lived for five decades, and sitting alone in the stillness. It made the Jazz hysteria seem a long way off.

It's not that I thought the attention the Jazz received was unwarranted. Only that it was, in the big picture, insignificant.

Which is the message we can take from Thomas Herrion: Enjoy the ride and don't miss out on the fun.

Everything else is details.

E-mail: rock@desnews.com