Guerry Clegg commentary: Terry Beasley's story a cautionary tale about the harm of taking toughness too far

sports@ledger-enquirer.comMay 18, 2013 

In the eyes of Auburn fans, Terry Beasley will always be the fresh-faced kid with thick red hair swept across his brow. “Sullivan to Beasley” still has a magical ring to it even 40-plus years after the most beloved pass-catch tandem graced The Plains. Video is scarce, but the still shots of No. 88 in the mesh-net jersey – whether sitting beside Pat Sullivan on the sidelines or stretching skyward to caress one of Sullivan’s perfect spirals – are iconic reminders of sweet times.

Today, that love from Auburn fans -- and maybe even the respect of Alabama and Georgia fans -- helps Beasley cope with the pain even more than the sedatives. He's now 63, a very old, tired and broken 63. The concussions -- 19 that the family knows of, maybe more -- began to wage war against his brain and his body long after his playing career ended.

A pacemaker and oxygen tanks keep him going, though many days he wonders if it's worth it any more. The pain became so severe a few weeks ago that Beasley had his family take him to a Birmingham hospital.

Reports out of Birmingham, by way of news outlets and Facebook posts by his son Trenton, have not been good.

Downright heartbreaking, actually.

"He was telling people, 'This is it, I can't take it any more. I don't want to be here,'" Trenton posted.

Anyone who thinks the NFL and college football are overreacting in efforts to reduce concussions should spend a few hours at Beasley's bedside. He is part of a class-action lawsuit against the NFL. But that's not Trenton Beasley's biggest concern now. He just wants the fans of the school his father loves so much to send a kind word his way, or a prayer on his behalf. Definitely a prayer.

"If you can send a kind word to him, please send him a kind words, love, and support! The sooner you send the support the sooner he will get it, which he really needs! please send it to

2010 Brookwood Medical Center Drive

Birmingham, AL 35209

Terry Beasley room 388"

The first pass attempt from Sullivan to Beasley prompted an outburst of cheers at Clifford Hare Stadium, even though the pass was 10 yards overthrown. The anticipation had been building since "Sullivan to Beasley" was born in a high school all-star game in 1968, when the two hooked up for three touchdowns.

They had to work their magic on the freshman team that fall since freshmen were not eligible for varsity in those days. So when "Sullivan to Beasley" finally arrived in the fall of 1969, the Auburn fans knew they had something special.

Beasley finished his sophomore season with 34 catches, and his 17.9 yards per catch led the SEC. Beasley had great speed and pillow soft hands and ran crisp routes. But as one pro scout noted, "It's what he does after he makes the catch that sets him apart."

The first concussion, at least the first documented, came in one of Beasley's greatest performances ever. It was his junior year in the Iron Bowl. Auburn had snapped Alabama's five-year winning streak the year before, but this time trailed 17-0.

Beasley was knocked cold on a ferocious hit by Bama's Tommy Wade. The Birmingham News ran a chilling photo of Beasley being dragged off the field by Sullivan and Robby Robinett, his mouth open and his eyes shut.

The grainy photo doesn't show that he was also bleeding from his chin. He looked lifeless. We look back on him as a hero, and he was. But we forget that he was a 20-year-old kid with his life ahead of him.

When Beasley came to on the sidelines, he saw the scoreboard. He looked into the eyes of his beloved coach, Shug Jordan. Beasley put his double-bar helmet back on, wobbled back onto the field and turned in a performance for the ages. Nine catches plus a 42-yard run on an end around. Auburn won 33-28.

That gave him 52 catches, 1,051 receiving yards and 72 points for the season, all tops in the SEC.

Another concussion came his senior year against Tennessee. He landed on his head after being flipped by Bobby Majors. He got up, stayed in the game and ran a deep pattern on the next play.

"I knew he was hurt," Majors told Sports Illustrated. "When he got up his eyes were glazed. And he hung around our defensive huddle for a moment before wandering over to his own side."

Beasley also had a badly sprained big toe. But again, he summoned the strength to go back onto the field. With Tennessee having to double-team Beasley, Dick Schmalz burned the Vols on a key scoring drive as Sullivan directed another heroic comeback. Afterward, a Tennessee player was overheard saying, "Damn that Beasley. Why did he have to come to?"

He finished his career with 141 receptions, 2,507 yards and 29 touchdowns. He was drafted by San Francisco in the first round, but his NFL career was cut short by more concussions. He was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002. The book "50 Years of College Football: Modern History of America's Most Colorful Sport" described him as a "warrior."

"It is not a word usually associated with the position of wide receiver. But Beasley was an atypical receiver. He had blazing speed and great hands, but what set Beasley apart was his toughness."

That toughness cost him years off his career, and many quality years off his life. Beasley once said he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes spread on the Auburn turf.

"But in a way," he told The Associated Press several years ago, "I feel like I've left parts of my body on football fields all over the place already."

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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