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The David Ash concussion saga: The battle between life and football

One haunting image reveals how little this can be about Ash vs. McCoy.

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

For the Texas Longhorns football season in images, no single shot captured by USA TODAY Sports is more eerie than the shot of quarterback David Ash's helmet sitting by itself in the end zone.

Eerie in part because in any other modern season for the Longhorns, it would mostly just be another helmet, largely indistinguishable from the rest.

This season, with the prominent jersey number above the iconic Longhorn logo to honor the 1963 championship team, an honor the team didn't exactly deserve against BYU and Ole Miss, the helmet is intensely personal, not representative merely of the team.

Eerie in part because of the date and time taken -- before the game September 21st against Kansas State, the last game in which Ash played and may perhaps ever play, though head coach Mack Brown said on Monday that Ash's symptoms are finally subsiding and that he is making progress.

Eerie in part because the date of his original injury is now seven weeks past and, based on the medical reports from the team, Ash is still suffering from symptoms related to his head injury, having already been declared out for the Kansas game.

Significant because Ash entered the season as arguably the most important player on offense and therefore on the entire team. Significant because even at last season's numbers, Ash would be a top-20 quarterback in QBR.

Part of the crux of this discussion is the four-game win streak for Texas, as the improved play from Case McCoy has led some to question whether he's the better quarterback for this team.

Getting into the depth of that discussion leads back into an impossible world of comparisons that seeks to do what? Compare quarterbacks from different offenses and make assumptions about McCoy as a leader this year as a different person than he was last year versus the overblown leadership questions levied against Ash, who for all intents and purposes appeared headed in the right direction in that regard?

Remember Applewhite talking about how dumb of a discussion that was related to Ash?

It's an even more worthless discussion now besides the most relevant point -- the future of Ash at Texas and his ability to realize his significant potential.

The McCoy stuff is separate and worthy of consideration and considerable approbation within its own context.

Right now, this is a story demeaned by comparisons that take away from both players and their respective achievements.

Comparisons employed to form a narrative that takes away from Ash's significant successes last season, the still-untapped potential those moments suggested, and the significant highs of McCoy's tenure this year that continues to add big moments as he better plays the role of leader and improved game manager capable of several superlative throws within his capabilities every game, just to divert from the topic at hand for a moment to clearly elucidate those achievements.

This is a story about the competing desires of masculine football idealizations of toughness that Ash has proven he embodies, perhaps to his significant detriment against Kansas State, and the harsh realities of brain trauma so starkly revealed by recent medical research -- the very competing elements that purists believe threatens the very game.

The competing elements that medical science suggests has to threaten the purist's harsh version of football, a brutal sport revealed as a potentially crippling life choice.

This is a story embodied by an image that is intensely individual and apart from the team, where Ash is right now, unable to travel or attend games or practice -- McCoy's opportunity is necessarily the result of the loss of Ash's own defining opportunity, perhaps to an extent that the loss could now reach two years beyond McCoy's final chance. A robbery that has nothing to do with McCoy.

This is a haunting image of the empty helmet of a quarterback who was legitimately poised to place his name in the conversation with some of the best in school history, whose potential to do so may have been irrevocably removed by the right combination of head shots in perfectly storming procession.

This story is many things, but a bullshit reductionist exercise in intangible or otherwise mostly context-free tangible comparisons it is not.

This is about life and potential and the actualization of that potential and the way that short-term considerations of the latter have lifelong ramifications for the quality of the former.