Georgia's Aaron Murray a study in resilience

The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionOctober 26, 2013 

The landscape of football is strewn with broken bodies and fractured dreams. Subtraction by attrition is the cold calculation that determines so many seasons.

In his own neighborhood, at his own position, Georgia's Aaron Murray found himself surrounded by casualties. Entering Saturday, starting quarterbacks at Florida, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Kentucky were in various states of disrepair. Missouri was riding a backup. And out west, Johnny Football was not feeling so great himself.

And, of course, there is a plague of injury running throughout the Bulldogs' offensive meeting room.

A gallows humor grows, even at the college level, where the biggest concern for the future should be what toppings to get on the next pizza.

Injuries are "something that worries everyone," Murray said early last week, an off week before Georgia-Florida on Nov. 2. That will be a meeting of two of the most banged-up teams in college football. Welcome to the World's Largest Outdoor Triage.

"We've talked about that as players. Sometimes we joke about it: 'Man, I won't be able to walk by the time I'm 50 years old.' In reality, that could be the case. We are doing a lot of damage to our bodies.

"Maybe there'll be some new surgery in 20 years that will take away all the arthritis I'll have."

He took another big shot against Vanderbilt his last time out, a blow to the head that momentarily dropped a sheer curtain over his frontal lobe. He quickly cleared and went on to a loss and the third-least-productive passing day of his college life (114 yards).

Maybe had you asked him this question in the midst of a different kind of season -- not with so many hurt and the ledger at 4-3 -- the answer would be different. Still, on the topic of whether Murray would hesitate having his yet unborn sons play football one day, he paused and gave a slightly surprising response:

"I don't know, man. It is a beating. Obviously I'll let them do whatever they want, but I may try to steer them toward baseball or golf or something like that. It's a fun game. I love it. But you have to realize from the beginning you are risking a lot not only now, but in the future."

Another clue as to just how much football is eating its own.

Still, here's the thing about Murray: His is a career that is being increasingly defined by large numbers generated over four seasons as a starter -- the SEC career-best 12,327 yards of total offense and 12,029 passing yards; the 112 career touchdowns, just two behind Danny Wuerffel's conference record.

Yet, it is one two-digit figure that stands as a particularly powerful testimony. Saturday on the banks of the St. Johns River, Murray will make his 49th career start (NCAA active leader).

In a game ruled by the weekly injury report, that should qualify Murray for some kind of spiffy lifetime-achievement award. Keep in mind that he is a fellow of normal dimensions -- 6-foot-1, 208 pounds -- who at no time played in an Iron Man suit.

His one-time roommate and current tight end Arthur Lynch has said of Murray, "He has always been the person we need him to be."

What is required of the quarterback now is his gift of durability and stability in the face of so much physical turmoil.

The battered Bulldogs need a Murray who has kept the faith despite the fact that his final season has veered so far from the ideal.

Steadfastness does run in the Murray family. Denny and Lauren Murray last week made up a banner to display near the Georgia locker room this week and designed it to speak for the parents of every player in there.

It read: "Son, we believe in you. Always have. Always will. All our love -- Mom, Dad and Family."

Back home in the Tampa, Fla., area, Lauren Murray emphasized that the family was not exactly swimming in regret over how this season has so undershot expectation. There has been a value in the struggle, she said.

"We have to look beyond the wins and losses to things big-picture, long-term that will serve our child," she said. "Things like character."

Murray had the option of bolting early to the NFL after last season. The nearly unanimous opinion among every league insider the family talked to was that he should return to Georgia for his senior season.

His parents wanted him to be certain he was going back for the right reasons. "We told him not to go back to win a championship because nothing is guaranteed," his mother said. "You go back because you want to have another year at school and you want to work at getting better."

"I feel like I've definitely improved as a quarterback this season," Murray said.

When Murray looks back on the whole of his Bulldogs career that is near its close, he more likely will break into a spontaneous unpaid endorsement of the entire state rather than a lament on the losses of these past few weeks.

Five years in Athens has completely converted the man, a significant development as he attempts to beat the flagship university of his home state for a third consecutive year.

A Florida boy has become a Georgia man.

"I'm just really trying to enjoy this last go-round at Georgia," Murray said. "This university, this state, these fans have done so much for me. I never would have thought I would consider myself a Georgian. But no matter where I end up (playing), I want to stay in Atlanta in the offseason or when my career is over. I want to end up raising my family in Georgia. I really love this state, love these fans."

"No doubt he's a Georgia person now," laughed his mother.

"He says 'y'all' now, no matter how much we get on him about that. And he likes country music.

"He didn't before he left home."

Perfect endings are hard to come by.

Murray will have to improvise and write his own less-than-model version these next couple of months.

That ending will lack some of the heftier trappings of individual glory. Asked whether he can live a fulfilled life without a Heisman Trophy, Murray answered: "Oh, yeah. Obviously I have not accomplished all the goals that I set when I got to Georgia. But I definitely consider it a very successful career here. I've enjoyed every single minute of it, wins, losses, all of it. And there's a lot left to this season to accomplish."

Just how little Murray cares for personal trophies is evident by the scope of his collection. He has kept no ball from any of the games in which he set an SEC or school record -- and he could fill a closet with them. Set aside has been one from the North Texas game in which he threw his 100th career touchdown pass, a 98-yarder to Reggie Davis. But that's it.

As the years pass, he can rely upon the occasional reunion and the ache in his joints to serve as reminders.

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