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Palladino: Forget The Stars, This Super Bowl Belongs To Herzlich

'From the Pressbox'
By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

Ernie is the author of "Lombardi and Landry."

Eli Manning. Tom Brady. A bevy of stars on both sides.

But do you know who Super Bowl XLVI really belongs to?

Mark Herzlich.

Whether the undrafted rookie linebacker out of Boston College plays or not -- and there's a good chance he'll remain inactive despite having returned to practice from a high ankle sprain -- the very fact that he's on the Giants' roster and in Indianapolis makes this his Super Bowl.

By extension, Herzlich's presence makes this, likewise, a Super Bowl for anyone who has battled cancer in its various, nefarious forms.

Herzlich stands for all that, a beacon in the middle of the dark thoughts that overtake so many thousands of battlers. He's one of the lucky ones who came out the other end and thrived. And he of all the players and coaches in Indianapolis knows that that's never a sure thing with cancer.

Rejoice and take some courage from him. He invites that. Just read his inspirational tweet shortly after the team charter landed at Indianapolis International Airport.

"Two years ago, I was told I might never walk again," Herzlich tweeted. "Just WALKED off plane in Indy to play in the Super Bowl. Take that Sh--, cancer!"

There may well be a reason for Herzlich remaining on the sideline, in sweats, come 6:30 p.m. Sunday. He's been inactive since Game 12 after starting two games at weak side and middle linebacker and spending the rest of the time on special teams. Only if the game-day roster numbers shake out right for him will Herzlich find himself on the kick coverage teams, since veteran Chase Blackburn now has a permanent grasp on the middle linebacker spot.

Herzlich did a good job on the coverage, making a respectable six tackles. But his emergence as a hard-working, gritty player came only secondary to the real battle -- the fight to overcome Ewing's Sarcoma that had invaded his left femur.

Oh, there was the self-pity part of it. Just a couple of hours worth, a lot shorter than many battlers experience. But then came the other phase, the "Let's-Get-It-Done" phase that pushes legions of his anonymous brethren through the often-debilitating treatment. The mind is a formidable weapon in the fight. Outlook is everything. And Herzlich's attitude went a long way in getting him from there to here.

He took the radiation. He took the chemo. He had the tumor removed, replaced with a steel rod that runs down the inside of his femur.

And he kept his chin up.

"Playing football again was that goal, and that really pushed me," Herzlich said. "After six hours of chemotherapy, you're sitting there and your body just feels drained. You don't want to move, but I said, 'I'm going to be playing football again in eight months, so I need to go and work out. I need to go ride a bike, get some cardio in.

"That's what I did. I made a highlight video for myself from my 2008 season. The real bad days, I would put that on in the chemo room and watch that on repeat, over and over again just to see myself succeeding. That's 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."

Very few in the fight have a return to football as a goal, however. The trick is to find something else to look forward to -- regaining normalcy, walking a daughter down the aisle, bouncing the grandkids on your knee.

It doesn't always work out. Cancer is a cruel disease, and even a thriver like Herzlich can't ever say for sure that he's cured forever. But the truth is, without a positive outlook, without a reason to fight, the situation will ultimately grow hopeless.

Herzlich never lost the faith. He took his best shot, and now he's in Indianapolis. Whether or not he plays on Sunday is the most irrelevant part of his story.

He's made it. And in doing so, he's given hope to thousands.

Super Bowl XLVI belongs to him, to have and to share with others in desperate straits.

How much inspiration have you drawn from Herzlich? Let us know in the comments below...

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