No Storybook Ending for Riley


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CORVALLIS, Ore. - A figure in gray parted the orange and black celebration that flooded out of Reser Stadium.

Though they were flush with victory, the Oregon State fans lowered their voices as they passed him, a wounded quarterback struggling on crutches.

"Tough break, Kevin," one man said gently.

Kevin Riley looked down, his eyes brimming with what he was too broken to say.

We won't know the extent of Riley's injury until an MRI is done, but coach Jeff Tedford said that it looks "more serious than just your everyday sprained knee."

This could be the end of his season. And if it is, then it's also the end of his career.

Cal has been unkind to Kevin Riley. This, though, may be the unkindest cut of all.

Few players in the history of Cal football have endured the kind of virulent, extended pain that Riley has endured.

The abuse from message boards and fans, the booing at games, the quarterback controversies that shook his confidence, whether or not he admitted it.

There were fans who called for Beau Sweeney and Brock Mansion week after week. Congratulations to those people. They got what they wanted.

Now, if there is anything good to be had from this, perhaps they can look back at Riley's career with less bitterness.

He had so many games there were supposed to be "the game." Air Force on New Year's Eve 2007, Arizona State in 2009, even Oregon State in 2007, a game he quarterbacked brilliantly until that last play.

They were all supposed to be his turning point. None of them were.

The blame for so many losses has fallen on Riley's shoulders - and some rightfully so. A team can't win without a competent quarterback, and there were games where Riley was far from adequate.

But perhaps the program cheated him, too. Maybe he was just the wrong quarterback for the system. Maybe the game, in a sad way, stopped being fun for Riley.

Seeing him with tears in his eyes on Saturday hit so hard because, through it all, he's maintained the strength and poise of a much older man.

He has been dignified both in triumph and in failure, which is more than I can say for the Cal fans who have mercilessly bashed him over the years.

Vince Lombardi once said that the measure of a player is not whether he gets knocked down; it's whether he gets back up. That, Riley has always done.

And for that reason, I don't want to see the story end this way.

With any luck - and that's something Riley so desperately deserves - he'll have another chance to get back up, walk on two strong legs and say goodbye to Cal the right way.

But, if this column must become a eulogy, there is another Lombardi quote that evokes Riley's career:

"The spirit, the will to win and the will to excel - these are the things that endure and these are the qualities that are so much more important than any of the events that occasion them."

Regardless of wins and regardless of losses, maybe someday people will remember Kevin that way.


Remember Kevin Riley with Katie at [email protected]

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