This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Followers of the LSU Tigers' trek to Monday's BCS championship game can recite the litany of issues the team faced during the 2011 football season.
Every televised game merited the usual graphic. Every overview story about the Tigers' season and Les Miles' Coach of the Year awards came with the standard rundown.
Parkinson's disease. Bar brawl. Extra-benefits violation. Three more suspensions.
Here in the media, that's what we do. Everything fits into convenient packages.
Yet one part of LSU's story hits home, with lasting effects: the Parkinson's diagnosis that became my brother's contribution to that list of "distractions."
If there's anxiety about how LSU's offense will perform in the rematch with Alabama's No. 1-ranked defense, there's even more uncertainty about what quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe's life will be like in the coming years, after those other elements of adversity become forgotten.
For all the hardships the Tigers have overcome during this remarkable season, his is the only one that's a debilitating condition.
Well, his and Cynthia's.
Steve's wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2009, and as her treatment options presented themselves, he chose to leave the Texas A&M staff just before the 2010 season. So when he called in late July and said, "I've got something to tell you," I figured something similar was happening at LSU, where he'd replaced Gary Crowton in January.
But this time, the news was about him. At age 46, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's, a progressive neurological disorder that affects some 1 million Americans, most famously Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali.
Steve had determined he could not function reliably as LSU's play-calling offensive coordinator, but would continue to work with the QBs. "I've got to keep coaching Jordan Jefferson," he said.
A month later, Jefferson was facing charges of battery (No. 2 on the list). So the season started without Jefferson or a suspended receiver (No. 3), yet the Tigers beat Oregon behind quarterback Jarrett Lee. Jefferson was reinstated in October and phased into the game plan, helping the Tigers top Alabama in November and then becoming the starter. Not even the suspensions of a Heisman Trophy finalist and two other key players (No. 4) for one game could derail LSU.
Interim coordinator Greg Studrawa and other staff members, including former Utah receivers coach Billy Gonzales, took on more responsibility for the offense. "It was a tremendous change at first," Studrawa said. "But … everybody worked together, and it was a lot smoother than I thought it was going to be."
It takes prodding for Steve to say much about his illness. I do know he's kept working the staff's regular hours and managed it well during the season, and he's a good storyteller. He talks about being influenced by Ali, having spent time with him while coaching at Louisville. He recalls walking onto the field before LSU's first home game and lamenting his reduced role, only to glimpse a special-needs child. He jokes about the quarterbacks having to finish his sentences during meetings, when his words get stuck somewhere.
For me, LSU's unbeaten season has become the distraction to my brother's condition not the other way around. When you grow up in a coaching family, whether you're 5 years old and attached to the Montana Grizzlies or 51 and bonded with LSU, it's ingrained that winning football games solves most problems in life.
So as those wins kept coming, I found myself thinking like any other Tiger fan. Wow, all of that adversity, behind us.
And then, the notion of a 14-0 record and a national championship? Permanent healing, absolutely.
So it is apparent that one of the Kragthorpe brothers has been in denial. When my friends learned about Steve's illness, they asked what they could do to help. All I could think to say: "Cheer for the Tigers."
Monday night, LSU vs. Alabama, same story. Winning cures everything, right?
Well, no, as it turns out. Not everything.