Through tragedy, Smith teaches us what winning is all about

September 24, 2012 | Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Sunday night taught us everything we needed to know about winning, and it had little to do with the Ravens’ dramatic 31-30 comeback victory over the New England Patriots.

After enduring the most traumatic loss of his life with the death of his 19-year-old brother Tevin less than 24 hours earlier, wide receiver Torrey Smith proved to be the biggest winner on the field.

He didn’t have to catch two touchdowns, each propelling the Ravens to comebacks from two-possession deficits, to do it.

The wideout didn’t have to gain a single yard of the 127 he totaled or even record one of the six catches he reined in from quarterback Joe Flacco.

Smith didn’t even need to play considering the circumstances of losing the little brother he helped raise.

But he did it all while displaying the same character we already knew him to have going back to his days at the University of Maryland and long before that with his challenging upbringing in the Fredericksburg, Va. area. After only an hour of sleep and not making his decision to play until four hours before kickoff, Smith showed once again why he’s become an inspiration to anyone who’s watched him in his young career.

“Obviously, you play with a heavy heart, you want to play for that person,” said Smith, who revealed his brother planned to attend Thursday’s game against Cleveland since his birthday was coming up. “My mom, all my family, everyone’s back at the house watching. They didn’t even know I was going to play until the last minute. I texted my mom [when] I got here to the stadium. That’s when I really made my decision I was going to play. She was excited about it. She was like, ‘Of course, he’d want you to play.’ He admired me so much, which is what makes it so [difficult], and it’s just a tough situation altogether.”

Many more difficult days are ahead for Smith and his family as they struggle like anyone would to understand how a young person can lose his life in such a tragic way. But those three hours on Sunday night allowed the talented receiver to temporarily divert his attention from the pain and harshness of real life.

Yes, it’s just a game and no one would have questioned Smith one bit if he deemed himself unable to play, but his performance shows us why sports are so important to us.

“If you’re around athletics, you feel like it’s an escape,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s an opportunity to get out there and do what he does. He has been doing it his whole life — he knows what to do.”

If you’re familiar with Smith’s story — former Washington Post and current USA Today writer Eric Prisbell told it better than I ever could — you already know he’s made a habit of knowing the right thing to do in his life. But it also makes you wonder how much more difficult his brother’s death will be for Smith than the loss of a sibling already is for the typical person.

As several players pointed out after the game, Smith will not only lean on his mother Monica Jenkins and the rest of his family but also has a second family consisting of teammates, coaches, and others in the Ravens organization to offer support and strength on the days his strong shoulders might struggle.

Hearing safety Ed Reed share his thoughts after tragically losing his brother less than two years ago, you remember how special the organization is and how Smith has become such an important part of it in a very short time.

“We don’t know our time, none of us,” Reed said. “We all experience the same things, so I just told him that we’re here for him; I’m here for him. I can relate to him. I told him we get so caught up, like our pastor said today, in the physical and what we see. I still talk to my [late] brother to this day because I know there’s much more to us than just being here.”

We’ve seen performances like this in the past such as former return man Jermaine Lewis’ heroics in the weeks following the death of his infant son Geronimo during the Ravens’ improbable Super Bowl run in the 2000 season, but those examples make Smith’s performance no less remarkable.

It inspires us to see an individual rise while facing a type of tragedy that we all experience at one point or another in our respective lives.

“You’ve got to go out there and play,” Smith said. “I didn’t want to be out there, just running around, doing nothing. If I was going to be out there, I was going to give it my all, and you’re on the lines, you just want to make the play. Afterwards is when you can sit back and reflect on things. My teammates, I love them to death, and they helped get me through this.”

The words took on much deeper meaning than simply describing a seam route or fade pattern. Sometimes all you can do is keep going when life offers such a trial.

Harbaugh and others in the locker room discussed how faith played a part in explaining why Smith was able to shine on the field only hours after experiencing the most painful loss of his 23 years on earth.

I’m not sure it was destiny for the Ravens to win and for Smith to have a big game in the process.

But the courage he showed Sunday was unquestionably divine.

And it showed us why Torrey Smith is a winner in a way that any acrobatic catch or long touchdown never could.