NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — About 10 years ago, Eric LeGrand and Patrick Kivlehan forged a rivalry.
They both played football for Rutgers University. But the gridiron wasn't where things got heated. Rather, they said, it was in front of a TV in the Silvers Apartments, on Busch Campus—where the two teammates duked it out in the soccer video game “FIFA.”
“We had some good battles over there,” LeGrand said yesterday, Aug. 22, on the MLB Network TV show “The Rundown.” Kivlehan responded, “It was a long time ago to think about, but it was fun.”
If time had any chilling effect on their friendship, it didn't show yesterday.
LeGrand came on the baseball TV show to surprise Kivlehan, who's hit eight home runs this season as a utility player for the Cincinnati Reds. For the upcoming Players Weekend—an event in which each player gets to wear his nickname, instead of his last name, on the back of his jersey—Kivlehan chose to sport the word “Believe.”
Few in the Rutgers community need a lesson on that phrase or LeGrand, who has become one of the most recognized and beloved Scarlet Knights in the school's history. But for those who don't know: In October 2010, LeGrand, a defensive tackle, was paralyzed during a game against Army. Doctors didn't think he'd wake up again—yet he did, and he also regained movement in certain parts of his body.
Since then, LeGrand has become a major player in the fight against spinal cord injuries. Using the slogan “bELieve,” he said, he has raised $875,000 for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, which hopes to cure spinal cord injuries and improve the lives of people with paralysis.
So when Kivlehan couldn't think of a nickname, he said, he spoke with two former Rutgers teammates. One of those conversations birthed the idea to rock LeGrand's slogan, Kivlehan told MLB Network co-hosts Kelly Nash and Scott Braun.
“I knew right away once he gave the idea that that's what I wanted to do,” Kivlehan, who played just one season of baseball at Rutgers before being drafted to the pros, said. “I still remember the hit and the aftermath. We struggled afterwards, but Eric was always with us and still is.”
But Kivlehan didn't expect LeGrand to be with him yesterday. LeGrand shocked his former teammate, who tuned in through a livestream from the ballpark to find LeGrand on the other end, in the network's Secaucus studio.
LeGrand had told Kivlehan that he was slated to appear on the network next week. Instead, he thanked his pal and reminisced about their time at Rutgers, right down to their “FIFA” rivalry.
“When he said he was going to use my name and slogan, 'bELieve,' I was like, 'That's an awesome idea, Kiv,'” LeGrand said. “I really do appreciate that.”
When LeGrand was in high school, the word “Believe” was posted above the locker room door. He patted the “E” and “L” before each game, a nod to his initials, he said yesterday.
After his brutal injury, another Rutgers teammate told that story to then-coach Greg Schiano, LeGrand said. The leader eventually reminded his player that he must continue to believe and have faith.
“It took off from there,” LeGrand said.
And now, he and Kivlehan hope, it'll take off even further.
For more information on LeGrand and his charitable efforts, click here.