INDIANAPOLIS -- Mark Herzlich would play the tape back over and over again, remembering how healthy and strong he had once been.
In his Pennsylvania Hospital room he watched video of himself making plays as a linebacker at Boston College. They were the plays that helped make him the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 -- athletic, dynamic, punishing.
He watched it during his worst days of suffering while being treated for Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. He watched it to remember who he could be. During his illness, in 2009, on the days in which he would undergo hours of chemotherapy after radiation sessions, he did not feel like the guy on his highlight tape.
Now, two years later, he's back on the field. A reserve linebacker for the Giants, he spoke on Media Day today about his fight against cancer and his journey to the Super Bowl.
"Playing football again was that goal, and that really pushed me," Herzlich said. "After six hours of chemotherapy, youre sitting there and your body just feels drained. You dont 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. Thats what I did. I made a highlight video for myself from my 2008 season. The real bad days, I would put that in the chemo room and watch that kind of on repeat over and over again just to kind of see myself succeeding. Thats something that as you go through things, you learn that you have to see yourself succeed, whether mentally or actually in person. That can help you do it.
Herzlich returned to Boston College in 2010 to play his senior season. He went undrafted, but signed with the Giants before this season. On Tuesday he reflected on the long journey he's made in a relatively short amount of time. He stood on the Lucas Oil Stadium field, in uniform, sporting a mohawk, but the memories of the suffering he endured as a cancer patient were still fresh.
The physical pain was intense," he said. "The pain that I would get in my leg and in my lower back felt like knives being stabbed into my legs. It was just completely random. It didnt happen when I was running, necessarily. It didnt happen when I was just sitting down, necessarily. It would be on and off. I think that was one of the hardest parts about it. 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 Ive ever been in because they had to actually tear the muscle off the bone and tear the scar tissue away. It was painful. I was screaming on the massage table.
When he stepped off the Giants plane in Indianapolis, the gravity of the moment hit him. He remembered all he went through, and he took to Twitter.
2 yrs ago I was told I might never walk again. Just WALKED off plane in Indy to play in The SuperBowl. TakeThatShtCancer, he tweeted.
The message quickly went viral. Though playing in a Super Bowl after beating cancer is sweet, inspiring others to fight the disease made it even more so for Herzlich.
"Obviously, this week is all about football and all about playing," he said. "But there are people out there who are going through cancer right now who see that and say, Hey, if he is doing it, I can do it.