Love can be cruel. Poets and songwriters have tried to explain this to us for centuries.

But football, a passion far more fickle, can be even crueler at times.

Take Maryland senior Andrew Crummey: a reserved, ruminative offensive lineman who sports a thick goatee and has the arms of a piano mover. A week ago, he was in the middle of the most important season of his life, one nearly five years in the making. A four-year starter at right guard for the Terps, Crummey, 22, was the quiet senior leader on a team just beginning to hit its stride, one of the few players universally respected by his teammates. He was an All-America candidate, and his once-fuzzy NFL dreams were just beginning to come into focus.


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But instead of preparing for next weekend's homecoming game against Virginia, Crummey will hobble to class on crutches, cursing a broken left fibula. He'll try to cope with the disappointment of a season snatched away by bad luck and a bad break.

It's easy to celebrate the glories of football because we crave its highs in this country like an addictive drug. We watch high school, college and NFL games to give us our weekly fix and find ourselves transfixed by the speed, the beauty, the raw athleticism and the intensity.

It is harder, though, to think too much about the downside to the game's violence and about what it does to good men such as Andrew Crummey. Injured players often become an afterthought once they fall out of the spotlight, because it is better not to think too much about the meat grinder that chews them up and spits them out as a season churns forward.

The victim of the Unlucky Break often must pick up the pieces by himself. And for the player, the agony isn't always physical.

"It's pretty devastating when you're sitting in that X-ray room, and they tell you there is a break," said Crummey, who was injured in the first half of Maryland's 28-26 win over Georgia Tech on Oct. 6. "You think, 'Well, season's done,' and then you get to sit and think about it for an hour and a half while the game goes on.

"I feel like I've lost a lot. I'm going to miss out on the rewards of being here for five years. You have a vision of how you want your senior season to go, and now that's kind of all shook up."

What's lost when a player such as Crummey goes down is difficult to quantify. In addition to his physical talents, he played an essential - yet often anonymous - role that every successful college football team needs: the quiet senior leader. He led by example and by experience. He taught others, usually in small groups, and was a calming presence in the locker room and on the field. He was candid and wise, stable and consistent.

All of which was wiped away by one tiny misstep.

"I only ever get hurt when I use bad technique, and this was bad technique," Crummey said, his eyes fixed on the carpet inside Maryland's football complex. "I knew what was going to happen [a blitz by the Yellow Jackets], and I still didn't take a good enough step. I got beat inside a little bit, and it forced me to put my left leg back. Someone landed on it. It's tough that it happened, but it's even tougher that it was a mistake of mine. I took a bad step and paid dearly for it."

Crummey underwent surgery to stabilize the fracture, and Maryland spent a better part of its bye week figuring out how to cope. Bruce Campbell, a freshman from Connecticut, got a crash course in how to play guard. Crummey believes there is a chance he could be healthy enough to play in Maryland's final regular-season game against North Carolina State. But nothing is guaranteed.

Leading from sideline
"I think our young linemen are pretty good," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said last week. "But how we survive without Andrew Crummey, I don't know."

There is a reason, though, that Friedgen got word to Crummey almost immediately that he would like him to stick around and help tutor the younger linemen and scout upcoming opponents. Over the past four years, no Maryland player has consistently performed on the field and in the classroom like the 6-foot-5, 301-pound Crummey. He feels as comfortable dominating defensive linemen as he does speaking eloquently and honestly on a panel put together by the Knight Foundation Commission to debate the state of intercollegiate athletics.

"Andrew has been a real pleasure," Friedgen said. "He's a really good football player and a very good student. He's one of the guys I like: low maintenance, high production. My life would be a lot easier if I had more guys like that. I might even start growing hair and losing weight."

But for the first time in his life, Crummey will have to figure out what to do without football dominating his days. No easy task for someone who has never suffered a significant injury before. He already feels out of the loop after missing just a week of practices.

"What's going to be hard on Andrew is he's going to have a lot of time on his hands," Friedgen said.