These gridiron greats battled and won
Cancer can affect anyone at anytime, including sports figures. In our ongoing series Super Surivors, we look back at those who've battled cancer and survived. Here's a look at those in the NFL.
Berry was on the fast track to Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he was blindsided by an unexpected, life-changing diagnosis. After Pro Bowl trips in three of his first four seasons (he missed the other season with a torn ACL), Berry was having another outstanding season when he began experiencing chest pains in a game against the Raiders on Nov. 20, 2014. Soon after, the doctors gave him the sobering news: Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Tapping into his deep reservoir of toughness, Berry attacked the disease, and only eight months after his diagnosis, he was declared cancer free. The safety resumed his career with a vengeance, earning a Comeback Player of the Year Award and Pro Bowl honors in 2015 and then adding another Pro Bowl in 2016, giving him five Pro Bowl trips in his five healthy seasons.
The Indianapolis Colts coach fought a very public battle with acute promyelocytic leukemia, a battle that gave rise to a movement known as CHUCKSTRONG. In September 2012, early in his first season as Colts head coach, Pagano received the diagnosis and took an indefinite leave of absence to fight the disease, undergoing three months of treatment. In a show of support, several Colts players and even a few cheerleaders shaved their heads to jumpstart the CHUCKSTRONG movement that raised awareness of Pagano’s fight and of the overall battle against cancer. Later that season, on Nov. 5, doctors announced that Pagano’s cancer was in remission, and inspired by their coach’s courage, the Colts completed an outstanding 11–5 season, a nine-game improvement over the previous season.
In 1999, on the very day that he earned the starting punting job as a 23-year-old rookie for the Green Bay Packers, Josh Bidwell received a life-changing diagnosis: testicular cancer. “Here I was, a 23-year-old from nowhere living my dream,” he said. “And then I found the lump, and everything changed.” Surgery to remove 43 surrounding lymph nodes revealed that the cancer had spread and would require chemotherapy. Since the season had not yet started, Bidwell’s medical expenses — which exceeded $100,000 — weren’t covered by insurance. Fortunately for Bidwell, Packer Nation leapt into action, rallying around him and his family with financial and emotional support. Bidwell rewarded their faith in him by beating cancer and playing four seasons as Green Bay’s starting punter. He later made a Pro Bowl with Tampa Bay and finished his 10-year career with an average of 42.7 yards per punt.
These Patriots bookend tackles share more than their status as 2011 NFL draftees and starting offensive linemen for the defending Super Bowl champions. They’ve both successfully battled and defeated cancer. Cannon received a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma prior to the 2011 NFL Draft. His draft stock naturally took a hit, and he was drafted in the fifth round while undergoing chemotherapy. By Week 11 of the 2011 season, Cannon was on the field at right tackle, earning the team’s Ed Block Courage Award for the season. Cannon’s draft mate Solder was the 17th pick in the 2011 Draft and immediately earned a starting spot, but a successful career was interrupted in April 2014 with a diagnosis of testicular cancer. Solder bounced back quickly from surgery and went on to start every game of the 2014 season. Solder and Cannon helped make history together, sharing the field during the Patriots’ record-setting comeback victory in Super Bowl LI.