ATLANTA - Although bowl games have evolved from rewards for good seasons to multi-million dollar business trips for schools, there is still time for pleasure.
And fortunately a lot of that pleasure is experienced by kids who won’t even be playing.
A staple of bowl weeks at any given host site is athletes visiting hospitals and interacting with children, many who face life-threatening illnesses.
On Thursday Clemson coaches and players spent time at Egleston Children’s Hospital in Atlanta, while the LSU contingent made its way to Children's Hospital at Scottish Rite.
Both are great facilities that provide world-class care, and they served as a canvas that paints a very different picture of what we sometimes see in a college football player.
“It was a very humbling experience,” Clemson center Dalton Freeman said on Friday. “We were actually able to get on a radio show, which Ryan Seacrest actually donated to the hospital and it airs to all the Children’s Hospitals across Atlanta and maybe even further. And you really understand just how blessed you are.”
In some cases the players sat around and simply talked with the young patients. In other instances they played games.
Jarvis Landry was one of the LSU players who was a part of Thursday’s visit.
The sophomore wideout is best known as the guy who made one of the best catches of the season in 2012, an acrobatic one-handed TD grab against Arkansas.
He also has caught the attention of Clemson with 52 receptions for 536 yards and four scores and a kamikaze style of play on special teams
But none of that mattered at Children’s Hospital, although the time and attention he gave to the kids mattered very much to all of them.
“It's really important to me, and it's a humbling experience to spend time with these kids,” Landry told LSUsports.net. “I feel that community service is a big thing for us. When you have that spotlight on you, I guess you can say in a sense, there's nothing like sharing it. Having the opportunity to be blessed and the ability to change a kid's life, it's really important and means a lot to me.”
Clemson defensive end Mallaciah Goodman says this week marked the first time he had taken part in the visit.
It proved to be an eye-opener.
“It was a great experience just seeing the kids,” Goodman said. “It was my first time going to the hospital and giving back to some of the kids. We appreciate them and their fight. And to just go in there really hit us. You have to appreciate every moment you have, every gift you have – don’t take advantage of it.”
In a couple of days both sets of Tigers will set aside their goodwill while they try to impose their will against each other in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
But as hard as these guys work all year – and as hard as they’ll hit on Monday – it’s good to know they have softer sides.
Sharing it with these kids might just be the most important thing they’ll accomplish all week.