By Mark Daniels / @MarkDanielsPJ
Jack is still fighting pediatric brain cancer, and the Patriots running back also joined the fight against the disease. This weekend, with the NFL’s ‘My Cause, My Cleats’ initiative, Burkhead will don ‘Team Jack’ cleats.
FOXBORO — You could see the smiles on their faces as they raced up and down the Memorial Stadium turf. Jack Hoffman was beaming while wearing his No. 22 Nebraska jersey. Rex Burkhead was just as happy in tow.
The Hoffman family will never forget that day.
On Sept. 15, 2011, Burkhead came into their lives. Jack was 5 years old old at the time and less than a month away from his second brain surgery. He was diagnosed with pediatric brain cancer in April of that year. After having a procedure to remove a small part of the tumor near his brain stem, the following months were hard for the Atkinson, Neb., family.
Jack suffered frequent seizures that spring and summer — up to 11 a day. Before his second surgery, scheduled at Boston Children’s Hospital, all Jack wanted was to meet his favorite football player — Burkhead, a junior at Nebraska. The family expected a picture. Instead, they gained a friend.
Burkhead hung out with the Hoffmans that day. He gave them a tour around the stadium and had lunch with the family. They bonded over Jack’s story. While showing the family around the locker room, Burkhead asked Jack for one of his red wristbands that said, ‘Team Jack-Pray.’ He told the family he’d wear it that weekend against Washington.
“At that point in time, Team Jack was a prayer movement for our son,” Andy Hoffman said. “We were in the throes of battle. These are the darkest days of our life. Our son has unending seizures. He has an inoperable brain tumor. Rex kind of waltzed into our lives at the darkest days of our family’s lives.”
“We just bonded so much at that time,” Burkhead recalled. “We just wanted to stay in touch with each other and continue that relationship. Here we are today.”
Fast forward six years and Burkhead still wears his Team Jack wristbands. That day in 2011 sparked a relationship between Burkhead and the Hoffmans. Jack is still fighting pediatric brain cancer, and the Patriots running back also joined the fight against the disease. This weekend, with the NFL’s ‘My Cause, My Cleats’ initiative, Burkhead will don ‘Team Jack’ cleats.
Burkhead darted through the field and dodged half the Ohio State defense before diving into the end zone. As the back soared over the corner pile-on, you could see the red wristband on his right arm.
Two days before Jack’s second brain surgery, Burkhead made the boy’s story known on a national stage. As Burkhead led Nebraska’s biggest comeback in school history with a game-winning touchdown run, Jack’s story became an inspiration for the Cornhuskers and everyone watching.
“We all had the wristbands,” Burkhead said. “I remember at halftime looking over some of my teammates and looking down at the wristbands, ‘Hey, Jack wouldn’t give up in this situation.’”
About 1,500 miles away, Andy and Bri Hoffman watched in tears in a furnished apartment in Boston. After Burkhead’s score, Sean McDonough and Janine Edwards talked about their son’s story…