Paul was by far the most talented player I ever had the pleasure of throwing the football to -- let alone playing in the same defensive backfield. This week, after the tragic news of Paul's passing, every connection we had through the air, on the field and off the field took on a different meaning. The bond teammates share, whether past or present, is weighted with lifelong emotion and kinship.
Not too long ago, Paul shared with me his favorite football season. It was playing on our 2000 Harrison High School State Championship-qualifying team. In his words,"a season I shared with my best friends ... and a season I shared with my big brother [Patrick]."
I was intimidated by Paul at first. I never told anyone, but a freshman challenging an upperclassman for playing time at our high school was unheard of. My pride was huge then, and my initial internal reaction was "who does this freshman think he is coming after my spot?" I learned quickly that he was the first of his kind; in fact, the only one.
The following year, Harrison High School had an amazing run. I remember specifically a double team pancake block against our Cobb County foe, Lassiter, Paul and I shared. It was on one of Coach Cobleigh's infamous counter crisscross plays in the first round of the playoffs. Our friend Jonathan Walker took the ball for about 60 yards for a touchdown. We both got up, talked a little jazz to the kid we just planted in the ground, and jogged off the field arm in arm laughing and patting one another on the back.
What was great was we loved our team accomplishments as much as our own -- if not more. It's what makes great teams regardless of their specific focus. It's what made that team the most special team I've ever been a part of.
Paul was an incredible athlete, long before his professional career. He shut down Jeff Francouer, who went on to play Major League Baseball, for all but one play in a downpour at "The Big Orange Jungle"; he was a sophomore covering the state of Georgia's best all-around athlete on the biggest high school stage possible.
In college, watching Paul, then a sophomore at UGA, shut down Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson was possibly the most fun I've ever had watching football. I told all of my Duke football teammates that I played high school football with Paul Oliver, "the best college defensive back in the nation." I was a proud friend.
He went on to play five seasons for the San Diego Chargers. Paul didn't just make the NFL dream happen -- he lived it, and he excelled. It's a little known fact that 1.4 percent of college football players make the NFL. What if these players left college early to chase their professional sports dream? Like Paul, many of these players make the decision for family and financial reasons. A decision no one can blame them for -- the money is there and their family needs it.
But, what happens when their dream ends? Lights are out, pads are off and these former stars are thrust into the so-called real world with few marketable skills to increase their wealth, and serious self-identity issues that often make the transition from the game a perilous one.
This week, I've been thinking about what more could have been done. What can we do?
When will we all make the extra effort to help the majority of professional athletes who don't sign the long-term lucrative contracts assimilate to the working world after their short professional sports careers? When will professional organizations, like the NFL, making hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as the colleges and universities doing the same, take ownership of their players' successes on and off the field? Will they make a concerted effort to help these people post sport?
Why do we care to pay so much attention to players on the field, but so little when they are forced to leave their stage?
When the game is over these players lose celebrity status, instant name recognition vanishes, income is slashed and perks such free meals and support staff end.
What usually fills this void? Self doubt.
We are all saddened by the loss of Paul. We are left without many answers to questions we hoped we never have to ask about anyone close to us. No one can explain or justify the action Paul took, but it does beg the question, "what more can be done?"
Brian M. Greene
Proud High School Teammate of Paul Oliver (Harrison High School '01)
Proud fan of Paul Oliver (all my life)