An Open Letter to Blake O’Neill

By Scott Westerman
Dear Blake,

Take it from a Spartan who has known his share of heartbreak.

It’s not all your fault.

It’s not your fault that the offense put you in a 4th and 2 position with seconds left on the clock. Punters only have to go to work when the offense can’t get the job done.

It’s not your fault that you were up against perhaps the most motivated defensive line you’ve seen all season. It’s not your fault that our offense over delivered in just about every key statistic and kept the game within reach.

It’s not your fault that your best tackler was thrown out of the game on a questionable call.

It’s not your fault that your coach put two guys wide when only one Spartan was out there, that two of your linemen gave half-hearted bump-and-runs instead of staying focused on the attackers.

It’s not your fault that it was effectively 10 of us against 8 of you.

It’s not your fault that you got a low snap or that two of our guys hit you before you could execute the kick.

It’s not your fault that we had five blockers against only two defenders when Jalen scored the decisive touchdown.

During any football game a thousand different decisions are made, any one of which can dramatically impact the outcome. You had the misfortune of being part of only one of those decisions, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

This does not change the fact that you are a gifted athlete. This doesn’t change the fact you still average 44 yards per kick, including that beautiful 80 blast during the game.

Most importantly (and having survived to become a graduate student) you know that this doesn’t change the fact that you are a valuable human being.

Those who criticize you, did not have to face down the situation that others created for you.

Your fellow Wolverine, Will Hagerup, put this into perspective for us. “You just saw first hand that punting is really hard. I challenge anyone to go catch a snap in 30 degree weather with 100,000 people watching. He had a terrific game and put our defense in great field position multiple times.”

When I talked with our star punter, Mike Sadler, this morning, he admitted that he’s made his share of mistakes. “Michigan would not have been in the position to win the game at the end if Blake hadn’t been a game changer up until that point.”

And my good friend,Terry Denbow, a Spartan who has witnessed many Michigan State ups and downs wrote, “Anyone who blames the punter.. better be prepared to say, ‘Of course, in my life, on my job, in my relationships I never have dropped the ball.’”

Those who criticize you most likely could never do what you do and would not have the fortitude to ever attempt it. You will learn from this experience and will be better for it.

In my book, you have all the character I look for in a Spartan. You’ve worked hard to become exceptional both on the field and in the classroom. You are a team player who has made important contributions to the team’s success. You have played a crucial role in one of the most amazing program turnarounds in history. You have known both acclaim and heartbreak with a visceral understanding of General Patton’s famous maxim that, “all glory is fleeting.” And my guess is that you know that it’s not how many times you get knocked down that define you. It’s how many times you can get back up.

I would be proud to have you on our team.

Scott Westerman
East Lansing, Michigan