The Road Back.
Written by: Chris Rubio.
I watched with great sadness the devastating fires ravaging through Lahaina on the Island of Maui in Hawaii this week. Lahaina is such a charming little tourist village with shops and restaurants; it’s so sad to learn how quickly the devastation changed life on the island. If you ever travel to Maui, there is a fantastic tourist experience called the Road to Hana. This road takes you to a scenic part of
Maui through 617 hairpin turns and 59 one-lane bridges. It is a treacherous driving experience, and if you
were to take your eye off the road, you might send your car over a cliff. Sadly, there have been several deaths over the years, with drivers falling hundreds of feet to their death. Upon arriving in Hana, there are spectacular natural pools of water for swimming and a unique black sand beach. After enjoying the fantastic sights, one quickly understands that you have to travel back through the hairpin turns and ensure
that you make it out before sundown as there are few lights along the way. This road back makes you wonder why you ever did it in the 1st place. The road back is more challenging than the original journey.
The 2023 Chiefs have some parallels with this road back. Two sub-stories will unfold this year for the Chiefs. The first is the quest for the Chiefs to be the first team since the 2003-2004 New England Patriots to repeat as Super Bowl Champions. The second is the incredibly high potential of Justyn Ross and his quest to return from injuries and make a meaningful contribution to the Chiefs.
It is curious why it has taken twenty years since the last repeat champion. One leading theory on why it’s hard to repeat is injury.
To advance in the playoffs, a team must have its best players healthy.
One untimely injury can ruin the quest. Just look at the 2020-2021 Chiefs. They were poised and ready to make a run at being
repeat champions, and then Eric Fisher, our consistent left tackle, went down with an injury in the AFC title
game, leaving the Chiefs with no one to protect MVPats’ backside. We all watched our Quarterback run for his life in Super Bowl LV because of a lack of an offensive line. Another theory is related to the drive and determination of the players.
This theory posits that once they’ve tasted glory, the players may ease up. Most athletes would disagree with this point
and be motivated to return to glory. A different theory is that you get every team’s
best shot at the Champs each week. Each week every opponent has an opportunity to take down the defending
Champs and these Chiefs have faced everyone’s best shot for the past five years. They have shown us that they are up for this weekly challenge and ready for the road back.
Turning to Justyn Ross and his road back, I wanted to remind everyone who he was.
Coming out of High School in Alabama, Justyn Ross was considered the top recruit in the state.
Instead of going to powerhouse Alabama for College, he chose Clemson, reportedly because he liked the family feel of the coaching staff. Justyn Ross was a top talented Wide Receiver during his 1 st two years in College at Clemson. Think. Jamar Chase talent. He was sure to be a top-10 first-round selection coming out of college. In the 2018-2019 CFB College Playoffs, Ross put up a staggering 301 years in combined receiving during the two games as a Freshman. Included in this two-game stretch performance was a light-em-up six catch,
One Touchdown and 153-yard performance against nearly invincible Alabama. No small feat considering the immense talent in the Alabama secondary, yet Ross continually torched the Crimson Tide for big play after big play in that game as Clemson easily defeated Alabama to claim the CFB title.
In a 2019 interview with Clemson teammate Tee Higgins (now Bengal), who was Justyn’s wide receiver
running mate in Clemson, Higgins was asked about what makes Ross unique, to which he replied, “Justin has a focus like he’s not a freshman”.After the 2020 season, Ross was diagnosed with a critical spine injury. I will spare the details of this injury, a congenital fusion of two vertebrae in his spine. There will be many reports on what this is. Let’s put it this way, as an NFL wide receiver; you will be called upon to sprint over the middle of the defense, often being defenseless trying to track down an over-the-middle throw with an
opposing defensive back licking their chops to light you up on a highlight reel.
A spinal/neck injury is a sour recipe when this is your chosen profession. Ross sat out for 2020. After successful surgery, he was back for another season at Clemson. He competed in 2021 in a comeback season, catching 46 passes for 514 yards and 3 touchdowns, only to suffer a disappointing season-ending foot injury. After these two injuries, he was un-drafted by any NFL team.
The Chiefs took a chance on him in 2022 as an undrafted free agent. Why wouldn’t they? His potential and his playmaking abilities are that of a top draft choice. Imagine the upside? Unfortunately, disappointment again followed Ross as he had further complications with his foot, requiring another surgery resulting in him sitting out the 2022 campaign. He is now ready for his road back.
As we think about any road back we all face-em, some may deal with the disappointment of love lost or profession lost, but the human spirit to go on inspires people to get on the road back. Another road back we face might be reconnecting with a talent or passion we had previously walked away from.
How about reconnecting with old friends you haven’t seen in many years? The obstacles are numerous on why you shouldn’t connect, but if you successfully pull it off, the road back leads you to new old friends and priceless joy.
The Chiefs’ first preseason game vs. the Saints treated us to seeing the prodigious moves and skill that Justyn still possesses. In one particular in-cut move, Ross made a quick shimmy shake juke and effortlessly lost his defender over the middle. We can only imagine what Patrick Mahomes can do with a skilled, agile big, target weapon standing at 6 foot 4 inches. We have yet to have a wide receiver not named Kelce with this physical tool kit. Just imagine the possibilities that Mahomes and Reid can dream up. How much more fun was it for the Chiefs Kingdom to watch Ross’ first touchdown in this first preseason game this year? From the Social Media Posts that I follow, it seems an abundance of our educated Chiefs fans are watching closely and rooting for this young man.
The developing road back stories of Maui, the repeat opportunities for the Chiefs to recapture a title, and Justyn Ross will be an excellent view for all of us that are rooting for these comebacks this fall. So why root for these comeback stories? We may see a little of ourselves in these comeback stories. We may love the road back because it is a part of our unique journeys, and often the road back leads us to reconnect with the best of us. I’m
rooting for the best of all three of these roads back. What about you?