x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Herzlich and Cannon emerge from life-threatening illness to Super Bowl

Both players, who managed to recover from non-Hodgkins lymphoma and Ewing's sarcoma respectively, get ready for a tough fight on the field.

Mark Herzlich, the New York Giants linebacker, was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in May 2009.
Mark Herzlich, the New York Giants linebacker, was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in May 2009.

INDIANAPOLIS // There can only be one winner in Sunday's Super Bowl but for two opposing players, a bigger battle has already been won, victory over cancer.

Mark Herzlich, the New York Giants linebacker, and Marcus Cannon, the New England Patriots offensive lineman, have both had to deal with life-threatening illness and came through their treatment to achieve their sporting dream, a place in the biggest game in American sport.

After an outstanding season for Boston College, Herzlich was diagnosed, in May 2009, with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer affecting bone and soft tissue.

He underwent a six month course of chemotherapy and radiation and also needed surgery and a titanium rod inserted into his leg, which remains in place to strengthen his bone.

The linebacker said his aim of making it in the National Football League (NFL) motivated him through the arduous treatment.

"Playing football again was the goal and that really pushed me. After six hours of chemotherapy you're sitting there and your body just feels drained," he said.

"You don't want to move but I said 'I am going to be playing football again in eight months, so I need to go and workout. I need to go ride a bike, get some cardio in'."

Herzlich said he made a highlights video of his 2008 season to keep him motivated.

"I would put that on in the chemo room and watch it over and over again just to see myself succeeding," he said.

"The physical pain was intense. The pain that I would get in my leg and my lower back felt like knives being stabbed into my legs. The pain coming after the surgery where I had to get the scar tissue kind of kneaded out with massage and stuff.

"That was probably the worst pain I have ever been in because they had to actually tear the muscle off the bone and tear the scar tissue away. I was screaming on the massage table," said Herzlich.

Cannon's treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma was less painful but going through chemotherapy inevitably weakened him.

"I still had faith I was going to get into the NFL, I didn't know if I was going to get drafted or not but I still believed I would play in the league," he told Reuters.

"I was blessed not to get all the side effects that so many other people get."

Cannon entered the draft but his illness pushed him down the list. Nonetheless the Patriots took him in round five with the 138th pick.

After missing training camp and the early part of the season due to his treatment, Cannon was finally activated in week ten of the season and was part of the team which beat the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Conference game two weeks ago to secure a Super Bowl spot.

"The confetti was coming down and I'm sat there thinking how am I supposed to feel? It's hard to take all of this in," he said.

Herzlich returned to college football in 2010 but went undrafted and his only contract offer came from the minor UFL league, a chance he turned down to keep alive his dream of reaching the NFL.

The Giants picked him up as an undrafted free agent in July and he featured in 11 games this season.

Herzlich says his doctors played a perfect game but knows he has won one of the toughest challenges anyone can face.

"I think it is a little bit of a miracle. It's a case of beating the odds," he said.