(AP) Rutgers retires Eric LeGrand’s No. 52 jersey
By TOM CANAVAN
AP Sports Writer
Moments after becoming the first player in the 144-year history of Rutgers football to have his jersey retired, Eric LeGrand told a loving crowd that his beliefs haven’t changed in the three years since he was paralyzed in a game against Army.
He will walk again. He just needs a little help.
In a passionate halftime plea to the crowd shortly after his No 52 was unveiled on the upper level box at High Point Solutions Stadium where the game is filmed, LeGrand asked them to support research to find a cure for paralysis, a cause he has joined by forming “Team LeGrand.”
Current coach Kyle Flood presided at the start of the ceremony and presented the 23-year-old a sword with the word “believe” inscribed on it.
LeGrand had been greeted with a standing ovation from the crowd _ many wearing No. 52 jerseys or T-shirts handed out before he game _ as his motorized wheelchair took him from a tunnel near the end zone to midfield. Most fans never sat down during the roughly 10-minute ceremony which was interrupted several times by sustained applause.
The ceremony featured messages from former coaches and teammates on the huge scoreboard, starting with former Rutgers and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano.
Former teammate and Buffalo Bills defensive end Jamaal Westerman was as optimistic as LeGrand.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gary Gibson applauded his school’s decision to honor LeGrand.
LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down making a tackle covering a kickoff in a game against Army at the Meadowlands. Cadets coach Rich Ellerson was among those wishing LeGrand well.
LeGrand was upbeat in a news conference after the ceremony.
Since being hurt, LeGrand has served as a motivational speaker who many times meets with people who are paralyzed. He also works on the radio broadcast crew for home football games. He is still working toward his degree. He goes to rehabilitation every day, “working his butt off” in his effort to walk again.
LeGrand said seeing his teammates and old coaches during the ceremony brought tears to his eyes.
LeGrand visited with the current team on Thursday. While they were unable to see the ceremony, they understood its importance.
Flood said it marked the first time in his 20-year coaching career that he stayed on the field during part of halftime.