Pride of Philadelphia
Beginning in May of 2009, Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich fought a very public battle against cancer – and won. Along the way, he inspired thousands of people and helped raise more than $200,000 for cancer research…
I’ve often heard it said that football does not create character; it reveals it. The game will not make you strong-willed, passionate, or selfless, but you better be those things if you are to excel. Football doesn’t create warriors; it just provides the battlefield.
Mark Herzlich, my best friend, my brother, is a warrior. He was an All-American, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, a projected top draft pick. He turned a smear of eye black into a feared glare of intensity. Last May, Mark proved that his relentless attitude isn’t confined to that 6,000-square-yard piece of turf. He battled cancer in front of millions, finding himself, his health, and his religion; a personal trial streamed live over the most public of arenas. Even with the hopes and expectations of the world on his shoulders, he remained gracious and loving. He remained determined, never wanting sympathy and always putting others first. And, most impressively, he remained stubbornly positive, heart locked on the day he could call himself a survivor, high stepping into Boston College’s Alumni Stadium with fire in his eyes, adrenaline in his veins, and a twelve inch titanium rod in his left leg. The doctors told him they would try to save his life. They would do their best to save his leg. Best-case scenario: he will jog again. Mark heard their words, but within a day, he had made up his mind. “They know cancer, but they don’t know me.”
In his relatively short time in the public spotlight, Mark has demonstrated his fortitude. He wracked up tackles. He beat cancer. But I was lucky enough to have him as an inspiration before anyone else could even pronounce our last name. He was the subject of my first grade role model essay sentence and the reason I started playing football. He would pick me up when I was down and knock me down when we played pick-up in the neighborhood (even though he two-hand touched everybody else). No matter the problem I faced, he always held the answer. Honestly, I felt silly for how much I looked up to him, until I realized that everyone else did too.
When I was 14, Mark invited me to a preseason seven-on-seven at BC. He toured me through the locker room, introduced me to the guys, and even invited me to run routes with the team. Mark was a freshman in his first weeks on campus, the youngest player in a new system. Never have I heard of another player bringing a sibling to practice, let alone as the only freshman at summer workouts. He introduced me to future NFLers and threw me into Matt Ryan’s drill. He put his reputation on the line because he wanted me to be included, to enjoy myself.
That’s just the type of person Mark is. He’ll sacrifice himself for those around him. Throughout high school, he never hesitated to bring me along with his friends when I had nothing to do. He backed out of a senior week in Cancun, opting for a camping weekend spent with yours truly in the hills of Jim Thorpe, PA, knowing that the next four years would be dominated by football, with little room for the brotherly time we cherished.
Mark has uplifted the sporting community. He has helped to raise a quarter of a million dollars to fight cancer. He has reached out personally to dozens of athletes, coaches, officials, and fans going through similar struggles. All while he continued to fight for his own life. He has turned me into the man that I am.