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Kragthorpe: Thankfully, Danny Berger's story is not like Wayne Estes'

Published December 5, 2012 11:01 pm

College basketball • But incident still dredges up some dark memories in Cache Valley.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Logan

Having stopped by the Spectrum ticket office Tuesday afternoon, Ross Peterson witnessed a frightening scene that immediately transported him back to 1965.

Utah State basketball player Danny Berger's collapsing during practice before being revived — he remains in critical condition at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray — evoked memories of Wayne Estes for Peterson, and he's not the only one.

You don't have to be a professional historian like Peterson or a longtime Logan resident such as Merrill Daines and the four other core members of the Blue Bird Coffee Club (average age: 90) to be shaken again by thoughts of what happened in Logan nearly 50 years ago.

Upon learning of Berger's incident, anyone familiar with Aggie basketball history naturally revisited that February night when Estes died after touching a live wire hanging from a utility pole at the scene of an auto accident.

The loss of Estes, the night he scored his 2,001st career point for the Aggies in a victory over Denver at Nelson Fieldhouse, shook the campus. "The whole place just stopped," Peterson, then a USU student, recalled in his Old Main office.

"Oh, that was very depressing," Daines said during the daily gathering at the Blue Bird Cafe downtown. "The whole county was very upset. That's all we talked about for a long while."

The mood was somewhat more upbeat Wednesday, amid the dark clouds in Cache Valley. There were hopeful signs for Berger, with the recognition that the actions of Aggie assistant athletic trainer Mike Williams and USU's having advanced medical equipment available "saved my brother's life," John Berger said.

That's the victory in this story. That outcome, thankfully, distinguishes Danny Berger's life-threatening incident from Wayne Estes' life-ending accident. Regardless of where Berger's promising basketball career proceeds from here, and no matter how great Estes' achievements were, nobody wanted to have them permanently framed in the same conversation.

Aggie fans such as Chris Wilson and Wayne Henderson who were born in the 1960s came to learn the legend of Estes, seeing the display of his white Converse high-top shoes and woolly blue warmup top and treasuring his legacy.

Even those who appreciate his All-American career will always wonder what Estes may have gone on to do in basketball, instead of having it all end with his phenomenal 48-point night.

Berger's basketball future is uncertain, and his teammates face a recovery process of their own. They understandably were not prepared to play yet, so the agreement between USU and BYU administrators to postpone Wednesday's scheduled game in Provo was the proper choice. Saturday's home game with Western Oregon is soon enough for the Aggies to resume playing, in the supportive environment of the Spectrum.

There's a potential window for rescheduling the BYU-USU game in mid-February, during a week when each team plays only once, but that's almost irrelevant. What matters is allowing the Aggie players and staff members who lived through Tuesday's horrifying occurrence to process everything, to come together and, only then, to think about basketball again.

And here's what I'd love to have happen, in tribute to Berger: The USU students should suspend their renowned heckling of the opponents for 2012-13 and channel all of their efforts into positive support for the home team.

Amid the hopes and prayers for Berger's continued improvement, this incident should be just sobering enough to remind the Aggie faithful to appreciate basketball as part of the fabric of life on this campus, and to make it a healthy experience for everyone. Yes, that applies even to the other team, visiting the court where Danny Berger lived.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt