The Brandon Burlsworth “Greater” movie opens this weekend. If you’re not familiar with his story, here’s the abbreviated version: an All-State lineman in high school, Brandon turned down scholarships from smaller colleges and chose instead to walk on at the University of Arkansas. By his sophomore year, he had earned a scholarship. By the time he played his final game, he had earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He was on the academic All-SEC team and was a first team All-American, leading the Razorbacks to two SEC West titles. In the spring of 1999, Brandon was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts.
Brandon’s senior year was the only year that I ever had season tickets for the Razorbacks. Even from the cheap seats, everybody could see Brandon’s trademark Superman glasses. His was a great life story that ended all too soon. I was living in Little Rock that spring Brandon died in a car accident, just 10 days after he was drafted by the Colts.
All over Little Rock, people flew their Razorback window flags that week in April. It looked like gameday in midtown, all in honor of Brandon. I worked in the Prospect Building and lived in Forest Place right next door, a walkable distance to War Memorial, the central Arkansas home for the Razorbacks. Strangers on the elevator talked about how sad it was, how fun Brandon had been to watch, and what might have been.
Former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt was on the Dan Patrick show this morning, talking about Brandon’s work ethic, his life and his legacy. Coach Nutt shared something about Brandon’s final day that I didn’t know. Brandon had called Coach Nutt that Wednesday afternoon to let his coach know that he wouldn’t be at the team meeting that night. The Hogs were receiving their SEC rings for winning the west the previous season. Brandon was going to miss the ring ceremony because he was driving back home to Harrison to take his mom to their church for Wednesday night Bible study.
I’m not writing this to advocate for a rigid, legalistic church attendance. The nature of Brandon’s commitment to an All-American level SEC football surely caused him to miss more than a few church services along the way. But something about Brandon’s last day struck me. He told Coach Nutt he could get the ring later, but he really wanted to be at Bible study back home. Maybe it was because Brandon knew he he would be leaving soon for the NFL. He had no way of knowing he wouldn’t make it home that night. None of us do.
All these years later, there’s still the sadness that Brandon’s life was too short. But more than that, there’s the admiration of how well Brandon used the life that he had. You have time to do whatever you want to do. And as long as you’re alive, live.