Column: Of all players, why Persa?

The Daily Northwestern, November 14, 2011

Column: Of all players, why Persa?

By Andrew Scoggin

It’s a cruel twist of fate, like something you might hear in an Alanis Morissette song.

Or, as Drake Dunsmore would say, “That’s football.”

Dan Persa had quite possibly the game of his life, guiding Northwestern on consecutive 85-yard and 91-yard drives in the fourth quarter to put the Wildcats up 21-17.

As Demetrius Fields hauls in the 20-yard touchdown from Persa, it’s absolute bedlam at Ryan Field with 1:22 remaining. But I look back at Persa 30 seconds after the catch to see the trainers helping him as he lies on the field.

He goes to the bench with a row of linemen sheltering him from about 47,130 pairs of eyes, and as his teammates celebrate the upset over No. 13 Iowa, he’s taken off on a cart rather than on the shoulders of adoring fans.

“He should’ve been out there,” junior safety Brian Peters said. “It sucks that he couldn’t be.”

Coach Pat Fitzgerald breaks the news after the game: ruptured Achilles tendon, done for the season.

Dan Persa, we’ll see you in 2011.

His style of play might make you think this sort of thing was inevitable. So many rushes out of the pocket, so many dives for first downs, so many big hits from opposing defenses. In fact, it already happened against Indiana with his concussion, though he missed all of about eight minutes of game action.

But this play, this was not when Persa was meant to end his season. He stayed in the pocket and was not so much as barely even tapped on the shoulder by Iowa’s pass rush.

Fitzgerald said Persa told him that he was “just going to run to celebrate with Demetrius” and he heard something pop.

It brings to mind Bill Gramática’s torn ACL and Gus Frerotte’s sprained neck, but Persa didn’t even have time to celebrate before he went down.

It’s an unfair judgment by the football gods. Mr. Iron Cat, who already has emphatically put his stamp on the program, can’t even bask in NU’s biggest win so far this season. I was all set to write about how he should be a prime candidate for the Heisman, but now he’ll be watching NU’s game at Wrigley from the metaphorical dugout.

Now batting, redshirt freshman Evan Watkins.

“I know one guy that probably won’t sleep tonight, and that’s Evan,” Fitzgerald said. “I got a feeling the first guy I’ll see tomorrow morning will be Evan. I got a feeling the guy I’m going to see the most this week will be Evan.”

Fitzgerald knows a thing or two about going down with an injury and missing big games. He broke his leg in the second-to-last regular season game against Iowa (of all teams) in 1995 and had to sit out NU’s first Rose Bowl appearance in 47 years.

The next season, Fitzgerald won his second-straight Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award and the Bronco Nagurski Trophy.

Any doubts Persa has Sept. 3, 2011, circled on his calendar?

“He’ll be back ready for his senior year,” Fitzgerald said. “You better look out, because he’s going to come back with a vengeance.”

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