When it comes to major events like the Super Bowl, there are always compelling storylines.
I remember one of the first articles I ever wrote. It was in the midst of Super Bowl XLIV. Three weeks earlier, earthquakes had ravaged the country of Haiti. Native Haitians Pierre Garcon, Pierre Thomas and Jonathan Vilma used the spectacle to spread awareness about the tragedy. The image of Garcon holding up a Haitian flag following the Colts’ win in the AFC Championship game is one of the most iconic from that season.
This year the only flags held up were those of the two teams involved. This Super Bowl was not one of mourning; it was one of celebration. For the Giants, that celebration centered on a man who was not even on the field for the 21-17 victory.
Mark Herzlich was a standout linebacker at Boston College a few years ago when he began waking up in the night in serious pain. Assuming the discomfort was a lingering effect of rough play during the season, the Pennsylvania native didn’t give it a second thought. When Herzlich’s leg began to swell up, however, doctors discovered that a tumor had completely engulfed his left leg, and he went from a football player to a cancer patient. Given only a 60-70 percent chance of survival — presuming the cancer hadn’t spread — Herzlich was fearful not only for his football career but also for his life. He was told he would never walk again, let alone step onto a football field. The day he was diagnosed, though, Herzlich told his father, “Dad, I’m going to make it, and I’m going to play football again.”
Herzlich never gave up, and was back on the field for his final season at Boston College less than a year later. The former 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year got another chance.
Despite going undrafted, Herzlich signed with the New York Giants prior to this season, overcoming the diagnosis he had been given and conquering his life-changing cancer. He started two games for the Giants this season, and captured the attention of the football world with the following tweet days before Super Bowl XLVI:
“2 yrs ago I was told I’d never walk again, Just WALKED off plane to #Indy to play in #SuperBowl #TakeThatCancer”
Despite not suiting up for the Super Bowl, Herzlich has become an inspiration to cancer patients across the country. He has gained a massive Twitter following, and, before leaving for Indianapolis, even called a young woman in Georgia to offer some kind words prior to her undergoing a surgery of her own.
Sometimes, it takes an event unrelated to sports to inspire teams or individuals to greatness. Playing for a teammate, especially one who has overcome as much as Herzlich, can spark a team to do incredible things. Stories like this exhibit the influence that professional athletes can have on others in similar positions, and Herzlich’s story in particular proves the importance of never giving up. When asked about overcoming the odds given to him by specialists in the industry, Herzlich responded, “I know my doctors know cancer, but they didn’t know me. … Realistically it shouldn’t be possible, but somehow, some way, it is possible.” Herzlich may have been on the sidelines for Super Bowl XLVI, but his impact was felt.
Hopefully, more cancer patients will have the courage to chase their dreams despite their illness. If so, Herzlich will have done more good from the sidelines than he ever could have done on the field.
Arik Parnass is a freshman in the College.
CANDID CANADIAN appears every Tuesday.