Not many men survive cancer to play in the NFL. For that reason alone, we should all find inspiration in the achievements of Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich, who has gone from cancer victim in 2009 to playing college football again for Boston College in 2010 to being undrafted in 2011 to signing with the Giants as a low-pedigree member of the 90-man-maximum roster to making it onto the 53-man collection of players.
Peter King of SI.com has some great details in his latest MMQB column, and it’s worth a close and careful read. Herzlich’s story deserves worth even more recognition and awareness, given what he has overcome and what he can do for others who have felt or inevitably will experience the hopelessness of a cancer diagnosis.
Herzlich, as King explains it, at one point was advised to have the affected femur replaced with a cadaver bone, which would have ended Herzlich’s football career. He opted instead for a course of treatment that allowed him to continue to live his life the way he chooses to live it, and it worked.
The story contains various other intriguing twists. Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who was a generation ago the head coach at Boston College, once lost a player (Jay McGillis) to cancer, and Coughlin continues to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the cause via The Jay Fund.
Herzlich paints a dramatically different picture of Coughlin than a certain former Giant who had a serious leg problem, for reasons entirely other than cancer. “I’ve had lunch with coach Coughlin a couple of times,” Herzlich told King. “He’ll coach you hard, but then he’ll sit with you and talk about life. We talk about grandkids, how things are with him, but nothing too football-related.”
Then there’s the fact that Giants linebacker Clint Sintim had been in touch with Herzlich long before Herzlich became a Giant, calling and texting Herzlich to wish him well. Sintim helped Herzlich through the demands of training camp. And with Sintim suffering a season-ending knee injury on Thursday night, Herzlich’s spot on the roster became solidified.
Here’s hoping that the multi-papers-and-platforms New York media elects to give Herzlich’s journey the attention it deserves. Other more salacious and scandalous stories will make for better headlines and attract more eyeballs. But Herzlich’s story gives folks who struggle with cancer something that money can never buy: Hope.