Award-winning ESPN columnist Rick Reilly’s latest piece is on offensive lineman Marcus Cannon, who was drafted by the Patriots in the fifth round of April’s draft just weeks after being diagnosed with cancer at the NFL combine.
The column takes readers on the roller coaster journey Cannon went from the time of his diagnosis to when he got the call from Bill Belichick telling him he was drafted. Here's an excerpt from the touching piece:
The first day of the draft, Cannon couldn't bear to watch. "It's like a firecracker you know is going to blow," he says. "Why hold it in your hand?" Besides, he had to go to his first chemotherapy treatment that day.
"We went fishing that next day," says Cannon's roommate and teammate, safety Colin Jones. "He had to leave. He just wasn't feeling good at all."
But the day after that, home alone, his phone showed him something that made him feel much better: an "unavailable" number. On the other end, a mystery voice said: "Marcus, the New England Patriots want to congratulate you and welcome you to the family. Now hold for Coach Belichick."
He'd been taken in the fifth round, the 138th pick overall. He had fallen probably 100 choices. The cancer had cost him millions. And he felt like dancing an Irish jig.
"Really, the combine maybe saved my life," Cannon says. "It was a pure blessing. They found the cancer in time. If it weren't for the combine thing, I wouldn't have gotten [the biopsy]. It might have been a year or more before we found it. Maybe two or three years. That might've been too late."
But what kind of whacked NFL coach would draft a player with cancer? A certified genius with a hidden heart, that's who.
"We all understand what the situation is," Bill Belichick said after taking a risk on Cannon, whose 27-inch thighs are nearly cannons themselves. "How will it all work out? … We'll all have to find out."
It might just turn out sweet for everybody but the teams who passed on Cannon. He was ranked by many as a top-10 lineman. Instead, he was taken as the 22nd.
"That's a steal," Jones says. "Marcus is great."
He's a mountain who can play any spot on the line but center. He has magic feet and a refrigerator chest. And even though the Patriots didn't take him with any hope that he would play in 2011, Cannon just might. He has had only that one day of chemo sickness, hasn't lost any weight and hasn't lost any hair. He says the lump that used to feel about the size of a baseball before the chemo now feels like a marble.
"I have faith I can do anything," Cannon will tell you. "If God wants me to play this season, I'll play this season."
And how does it feel to go through a paint shaker of emotions in one two-week period -- from having a killer combine to finding out you have a potentially deadly cancer to finding out one of the greatest NFL coaches in history is not only sure you're going to live a long time but wants you to live it with him?
"Awesome, dude. There's a reason this happened. I can almost see through the tunnel now. I can see the plan God had for me. Just from all the Facebook messages I'm getting, the Twitter messages, people talking about how they went through it. Their kids. Their babies. I hope I can be a role model for people, for how to get through it … I feel lucky."