Auburn's Lutzenkirchen 'left an impactful legacy' of kindness, compassion
JUN 29, 2014 5:10p ET
Like most college football fans, I was stunned when I heard the news Sunday morning that 23-year-old former Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen had died in a car accident. Some folks probably knew him because of what a go-to guy he was for the Tigers. His 14 career touchdown receptions is most all-time among Auburn tight ends. He caught five of them in 2010, the season when Auburn won the national title. He scored the game-winning TD against arch-rival Alabama to keep the national title dream going and then punctuated it by performing an end zone dance later dubbed "The Lutzie."
Some fans probably remember him for his unique four-syllable, 13-letter last name. Most media members around the SEC probably remember him for what a thoughtful interview or how personable he always was.
Those around the Auburn program knew best what kind of truly special person he was. Like the time in 2010 when he attended the prom at his alma mater Lassiter High in Marietta, Ga., with a young woman with Down syndrome.
Sunday afternoon, Gene Chizik -- Lutzenkirchen's former coach at Auburn from 2009 to 2012 -- said this about the former All-SEC player: "Philip Lutzenkirchen was what every parent aspires their son to be. My deepest sympathy is extended to his parents, Mike and Mary, his sisters, and all of his extended family. We should all begin by honoring his life because he lived a life worthy of that. In his 23 short years, he has certainly left an impactful legacy to everyone he touched. I will miss him deeply."
I can't say I knew Lutzenkirchen well. I think I interviewed him a few times over the years. But his heart and spirit had an impact on me, too. Last month, he and I traded about a dozen direct messages over Twitter. The exchange started after I praised him in a tweet for some of the comments he made in support of former Mizzou star Michael Sam during the NFL draft. Lutzenkirchen, a Christian who worked with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, also had begun sparring with some fans, including many of his alma mater, who didn't approve of Sam. These were some of the tweets from Lutzenkirchen's timeline that day:
A lot of people will unfollow or hate me for my stance but to not draft a person bc of his sexual orientation.. That's absurd.— Phil Lutzenkirchen (@lutzenkirchen) May 10, 2014
If someone is in love with a person let him be in love. He doesn't judge you for loving a straight, cute, gay, fat, ugly, sexy, person.— Phil Lutzenkirchen (@lutzenkirchen) May 10, 2014
You don't know what @MikeSamFootball stands for until a person you care about has the courage to stand up. Love is love.— Phil Lutzenkirchen (@lutzenkirchen) May 10, 2014
“@grantbostick223: @lutzenkirchen it's so disappointing... You used to be my favorite player.” And I'm still the same guy person as always.— Phil Lutzenkirchen (@lutzenkirchen) May 10, 2014
I believe in a God who loves. He made all correct? So he made Adam and Eve. He also made the rest of our creations correct? Love is love— Phil Lutzenkirchen (@lutzenkirchen) May 10, 2014
Y'all don't praise me for my stance. Praise @MikeSamFootball for his courage.— Phil Lutzenkirchen (@lutzenkirchen) May 10, 2014
Last tweet. Love who you wanna love. My God is a loving god who judges people at the gates who know the value of love. Love is love.— Phil Lutzenkirchen (@lutzenkirchen) May 11, 2014
After my tweet, Lutzenkirchen direct-messaged me. We had an interesting exchange about him knowing he was probably going to irk a whole bunch of his sizable Twitter following of Auburn fans in the Bible Belt, but he said he was OK with it, because there was something more important that needed to be said.
I've always tried to steer clear of writing anything that could be seen as even remotely political, although I suspect some might not see it that way with this column. But today, on what is such a sobering and sad day, what I want to do is echo what Lutzenkirchen told me he was doing that night last month: preaching compassion and hoping we could become a more compassionate and loving society.
Before I began to write this, I went back to Lutzenkirchen's Twitter page and noticed the bio he penned about himself: "A life is not important except for the impact it has on others."
No doubt, Philip Lutzenkirchen was important because he had an impact on so many people, more people than I bet he could've ever imagined.