Tyler Schicke was greeted in the front lobby of the Timex Performance Center, the Giants’ practice facility, by Giants’ linebacker Mark Herzlich and was immediately asked a question.
“Would you like to watch some films with us?” Herlizch asked the Morristown-Beard junior.
With that, Schicke was whisked away to the linebackers’ film room, where he spent time breaking down the Giants’ special teams prior to the Giants facing the Atlanta Falcons in a crucial game that has major playoff ramifications.
Schicke watched the game films with Herzlich, Spencer Paysinger, Adrian Tracy and Chase Blackburn. Schicke was instantly like one of the guys.
That’s what takes place when there’s a sense of kindred spirit between two guys like Herzlich and Schicke. They do have something extraordinary in common. They both beat cancer and came back to play competitive football.
Herzlich’s story of coming back from bone cancer as a senior at Boston College is an inspirational saga of the ages. After doctors told Herzlich that he would never run again and might have to lose his right leg to amputation, Herzlich defeated the odds, underwent four different surgeries and months of chemotherapy and radiation to eventually sign a free agent contract with the Giants.
And in his first year with the Giants, the team won the Super Bowl.
Schicke’s tale is not as universally known, but he was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia when he was eight years old and had to go through more than a year of different treatments and procedures — including chemotherapy as well — to defeat the disease.
Last fall, Schicke was a starting guard and defensive tackle on the Crimson football team that qualified for the NJSIAA Non-Public Group I playoffs, just two years after the school discontinued the program.
So here they were, two cancer survivors who managed to defy all practical sense and play football in the state of New Jersey, together watching game films.
Talk about a dream come true, especially for Schicke, a big Giants fan.
“I knew it was going to be cool to meet him,” said Schicke, who had the meeting arranged through Herzlich and Peter John-Baptiste of the Giants’ public relations staff. “But going in to watch the films was a nice surprise. I certainly didn’t expect that. I was surprised and excited. It’s something I’ll definitely always remember.”
Ever since he was diagnosed with cancer four years ago, Herzlich has almost become an impromptu spokesman for cancer awareness. His case was highlighted on every major media market, especially ESPN. Herzlich, considered a front-runner to win the Butkus Award as the nation’s top collegiate linebacker and almost a shoo-in to be a high NFL draft selection, was headed into his senior year when he was diagnosed.
It totally changed Herzlich’s life and forced him to endure a battle like no other.
Herzlich has been cancer-free now for almost three years, but he’s still asked to speak to hundreds of people going through the painful and emotional ordeal that comes with cancer.
“But to see a fellow football player go through it?” Herzlich asked. “That’s pretty incredible. Football players are part of a fraternity on their own. But cancer survivors are a fraternity as well. Every time I meet someone who is a survivor, they’re all part of the fraternity. This is really special. You find people who battle back just to get healthy. But to find someone to come back to play football is definitely rare.”
Herzlich said that he drew inspiration from people all over the country who sent him cards and letters of encouragement.
“I heard so many stories,” Herzlich said. “There was a woman when I was at Boston College who used to talk to me about her ordeal. I received so many cards and letters. I know what it’s like to go through chemo and radiation and know what it’s like to feel crappy all the time. You feel like it’s never going to end. It’s just something you have to get through.”
Perhaps fortunately for Schicke, he does not remember the painful, grueling procedures. For some reason, maybe because he was so young, it’s been blocked from the 17-year-old’s memory.
“But you know you went through it,” Herzlich said to Schicke. “This is what it’s all about, seeing someone who had been through the worst and coming back on top, not only surviving, but thriving. To be able to go back and do what you love to do, which in our case, is playing football. It’s all about determination.”
Herzlich said that it was great for him to meet with New England Patriots’ offensive lineman Marcus Cannon before last year’s Super Bowl. Cannon was diagnosed with having non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2011 and he is now cancer-free.
“There are people who survive, more people now than ever,” said the 25-year-old Herzlich, who has started four games this season for the Giants at middle linebacker and serves most of the time as Blackburn’s backup. “You hear more and more stories now and that’s encouraging.”
Needless to say, it was a great day for Schicke, who was recently named as a captain for next year’s Crimson squad.
“It was definitely interesting and fun,” Schicke said. “It’s also very inspiring, because he was able to come back after being sick and play in the NFL. That’s definitely far more physically demanding than playing in high school. To know that there are others who have gone through this and can play football is certainly inspiring. He’s been through what I’ve been through and he plays in the NFL. That’s amazing.”
So is beating leukemia and playing high school football. In that respect, two amazing football players got together last week and shared a few moments, as part of that kindred, that fraternity.
“This really wasn’t too bad at all,” Schicke laughed.