Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Heart of a Champ

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Heart of a Champ

Article excerpt

INDIANAPOLIS - As Mark Herzlich descended the airplane stairs on Monday, he took his place in the familiar moving snapshot of Super Bowl week, where we watch players arriving in town, their shiny suits, whirring cameras and beaming smiles telling a story of pure joy and excitement.

We watch them move; we wonder what they must be thinking.

Herzlich -- cancer survivor, linebacker, inspirational figure -- let us know.

With a message on Twitter to send shivers down your spine and raise goose bumps on your arms, the rookie Giant delivered a powerful sentiment of hope Monday afternoon, reminding us all of his inspiring journey from cancer hell to football heaven.

"2 years ago I was told I might never walk again," Herzlich typed into cyberspace. "Just WALKED off plane in Indy to play in The #SuperBowl. #TakeThat****Cancer."

The tweet went viral, copied and repeated across the worldwide web, reverberating far beyond the confines of sports' craziest week. By Tuesday, amid the din and chaos of the spectacle known as Super Bowl media day, Herzlich's story rose above the noise. This third- string linebacker fresh off the injury report might not even make a tackle against the Patriots, but that doesn't mean he hasn't already made an impact.

When he tweeted from his heart, he thought he was making a point to himself. Turned out it meant so much to so many other people, too.

"Walking off the plane made me think back to how far I had come," Herzlich said. "Walking down those steps, I remember walking with a limp after my surgery and trying to walk anywhere, so walking down steps again was amazing. I didn't think the tweet would get that much exposure, but I'm glad it did, because it reached a lot more people than I had anticipated in terms of giving them hope. That's what defeating cancer is all about."

A cancer survivor's journey is always one of milestones, and for Herzlich, the goal never wavered from getting back on the football field. When an All-America career at Boston College was interrupted by a shocking diagnosis of Ewing's sarcoma, a rare bone cancer that struck his left leg, causing indescribable pain and forcing radical surgery, Herzlich never gave up on the idea of returning for his senior season.

He found inspiration in his own highlight tape, one he'd made for a class assignment and would pop into the DVD to get him through some of his darkest days. He found courage from his roots, ones planted by a paternal grandfather who, as a 4-year-old, escaped the Nazis' oncoming onslaught through Austria, a route that took his Jewish family of three through England to New York City's welcoming shores. Eric Herzlich chronicled the family's history in a 700-page book that Mark devoured by the age of 10.

Stock like that doesn't fold easily.

"We're very proud of him of course," Eric said from his Connecticut home. …

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