New York Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich will be making his first start of the season — replacing Chase Blackburn at middle linebacker — when his team faces off against the Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife Stadium.
Herzlich's start — the third of his pro career — would not be so noteworthy if it were not for the circumstances surrounding Sunday's game.
Herzlich, an undrafted free agent who was signed by the Giants last year, is a cancer survivor who hopes the sight of him on the field can become an inspiration to all of the area residents who are still coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy's destructive path.
"It's about not giving up," Herzlich told The New York Post. "That was my biggest thing. I had to set a goal, and I had to stick to that goal — it was coming back and playing football again and being healthy. And beating cancer. And doing something people told me I couldn't do."
In 2009, Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, right after he was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year while he was at Boston College. Months of soul-draining radiation and chemotherapy treatments forced Herzlich to put his dream of playing in the NFL on hold or, in a worst case scenario, out of his reach.
Last season, his first with the Giants, Herzlich started two games before an ankle injury sidelined him for the rest of the year which, ironically, brought Blackburn back to the team.
Herzlich ignored the naysayers and continued to pursue his dream.
"For people fighting cancer, that's very easy to relate to, because so many times you get told, 'You have cancer' ... kind of, 'You're screwed' ... What next? Your life is over. And that's not the way it is. And I think that for everybody around here recently, the main thing is the hurricane. They have houses wiped out ... trains not running, nothing's working, no one has gas. Now what do I do with my life?"
Emotions should be running high at MetLife Stadium as fans struggle to make it out to East Rutherford by any means possible. The Giants players said their hearts and minds will be with the victims digging out of the storm.
"Set that goal and keep pushing towards it and you'll come out," said Herzlich. "Your attitude will determine how you come out.
Lately, words have been thrown around like storm tossed boats during Sandy's wrath. Herzlich is the physical embodiment that proves stricken residents will survive and go on when it is all said and done.