Friday, October 28, 2011
Mark Herzlich story on '60 Minutes'
By Mike Mazzeo
Special to ESPNNewYork.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich's inspirational story of how he defied the odds, overcoming cancer to play in the NFL, will be aired on "60 Minutes" this Sunday evening.
"Yes, I'll be watching," Herzlich told ESPNNewYork.com after Friday's practice. "I'm actually excited to see what they put together because they started filming it when I was training down in Florida [before I went to the Giants]. It'll be cool to see what type of spin they put on it."
Herzlich, who attended Boston College, was once considered one of the top linebackers in the nation and seemed like a lock to be a first-round pick after he was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 as a junior. But he missed the entire year in 2009 with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer in his left leg.
Herzlich recovered in time to return for the 2010 season, when he recorded 65 tackles and four interceptions and started in all 13 games. He wound up going undrafted, but never lost hope, continued to train and work hard and signed with the Giants as a free agent. The rookie made the team out of training camp and now serves as a valuable contributor on special teams, making three tackles so far this season.
"He's a football player. He's dedicated. He's smart. He learns very quickly," coach Tom Coughlin told "60 Minutes." "And he earned it primarily on his special teams play and his intelligence. You tell him one time what to do and he does it."
Asked what viewers may see that hasn't already been chronicled, Herzlich replied: "They gotta watch."
"A lot of it depends on what they use, and I'm not really sure what stuff they used and what they didn't use, but it was a more extended piece," he added. "It gets a little more in-depth on what people around me were feeling during the time and how I interacted with my friends."
In the "60 Minutes" piece, one of the major focuses is on Herzlich's decision to get a titanium rod inserted into his femur and undergo radiation rather than having a cadaver bone put in. He made the choice because it was the only way to continue his football playing career.
"Most people who get the type of cancer that I had in their leg usually get surgery to get their bone removed above and below the tumor because that way you pretty much know that the whole thing is out and gone," Herzlich said. "If I did that I would've never been able to play again because if they put a cadaver bone or rod in, it wouldn't have been strong enough. So, I chose to do radiation instead, which not many people do.
"It turned out well for me, but after the radiation, in order to strengthen the bone back to full strength, they put a titanium rod through the center of my femur. So they drilled out where the bone marrow was, and they put a rod in down from my hip and it made my leg back to as [strong] as it was."
Herzlich said the rod is about a foot long, but he's never felt it because it's located completely inside the bone.
Although his life has changed a lot in the two years since he beat cancer, Herlizch hasn't had time to soak it all in.
"I haven't noticed the change as much because I'm so wrapped up in football and doing everything here, but it's definitely getting the story out there more," Herzlich said.
Still, he feels fortunate to be in a position to impact the lives of people who are going through what he went through.
"There's a kid here at practice [Friday], Michael who is from a [North Jersey] town right near here who has the same type of cancer that I had. He wants to be out here because he was inspired by my story a little bit, and he said he was gonna be me for Halloween," Herzlich said.
"He's going through it, but he's like 'Well, Mark got through this and he's playing in the NFL. So if he can do it, then I can do it,' and it's one of those things where the more the story gets out, obviously the more people know about me, but they can also gain a little hope from it."
Rookie safety Tyler Sash has a locker next to Herzlich.
"He'll probably make me come over and watch it," Sash said. "He'll have some popcorn for me. We'll probably be on his couch. ... I'd probably watch it [even if he didn't make me] just to give him a hard time about it the next day and text it while it was going on."
Sash, of course, was just joking with Herzlich as teammates tend to do.
"He's one guy that gives hope to everybody else that's going through the same thing," said Sash, who remembers seeing Herzlich's story on ESPN. "Especially since he's overcome so much and now he's playing in the NFL."
Rookie fullback Henry Hynoski, who roomed with Herzlich during training camp, will be watching with Herzlich and Sash.
"Of course, I have to," Hynoski said.
Hynoski will also gives Herzlich a good-natured ribbing every once-in-a-while.
"Just in very good humor," Hynoski said. "But he gets a lot of attention and publicity, so we let him know about it now and then.
"But he deserves it. It really is an amazing story."
Hynoski also knew about Herzlich's story long before meeting him for the first time.
"Absolutely, I don't think there's anybody that didn't know," Hynoski said. "He's a great person, and it makes it that much more inspiring."
Mike Mazzeo is a frequent contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.