Little Boy with cancer comes to St. Louis for the Musial awards
Lincoln, NE (KSDK)- In Nebraska, you can see a long way in all directions and yet there are still some things you never see coming.
When his son Jack was born Andy Hoffman saw colors. Scarlet and cream.
"That's the first thing any Nebraska dad thinks of when they have a son, "says Hoffman. "Cool, we can go to Husker games together."
In this state, the two most important words besides John Deere are Husker football. By wins and winning percentage, Nebraska is the winningest college football program of the last 50 years.
But on the morning of April 22, 2011, football was the last thing on Andy Hoffman's mind. Jack, then just 5 years old was sitting at the breakfast table when he became unresponsive.
"And I just kept getting right up into his face and clapping my hand right up in his nose and I'm like Jack and finally I'm clapping as loud as I could and yelling his name as loud as I could and just nothing, "recalled Hoffman.
They didn't know it at the time but Jack was in the middle of a massive seizure. He was rushed to the hospital in his hometown of Atkinson and then transferred four hours away to Children's Hospital in Omaha.
"You know I didn't know if he would make it to Omaha, to the hospital, " remembers Jack's mom Brianna Hoffman.
He survived the night but doctors gave the Hoffman's a devastating diagnosis. Jack had to undergo surgery for a malignant tumor near his brain stem.
"There is nothing worse than watching your 5 year old being wheeled down the hall to brain surgery. It is absolutely gut wrenching, "Andy Hoffman said.
For the next several months there were more seizures, a second surgery and the intense chemotherapy that made Jack feel sick.
"Then I started taking these three pills six hours a day and it kind of helped me not puke, "remembers Jack.
It was between surgeries when the Hoffman's wanted to do something special for Jack to lift his spirits.
"We reached out to see if Jack could meet Rex Burkhead his favorite player at the time, "said Andy Hoffman. "Just thought that would be something nice to do for Jack."
The Huskers not only opened their doors they opened their hearts.
Jack and Rex Burkhead, the former running back became fast friends and by extension an honorary member of the team.
"They've made him feel so welcome, he does feel like he's part of the team, "Brianna said.
Every time he was up to it, the Hoffman's made the three hour drive to Lincoln so that Jack could see the Huskers play. He even led the team out of the tunnel in their 2012 game against Wisconsin.
"He embodies everything that Nebraska Football is all about. Toughness, Character, Class and Perserverance, "explained Nebraska Assistant Athletic Director Jeff Jamrog.
Then almost two years since Jack had suffered that first seizure, the Hoffman's were sitting at home when they got a call the night before the Spring exhibition game.
"I just wanted it to come off the right way so that it was a good moment for Jack, "said Husker Head Coach Bo Pelini.
Coach Pelini and his staff asked Jack to suit up and play a down with the 2013 Huskers. He announced it to the team in the locker room before the spring game.
"He brought Jack in, "recalled his dad, "and he said you know this is one of the toughest kids in the entire state. Well today, he's going to suit up for the Cornhuskers and he's going to score a touchdown. And the players just erupted."
With less than 8 minutes to go in the 4th quarter, Jack was lining up behind quarterback Taylor Martinez 69 yards from the end zone. He'd been briefed on the play and got some words of advice from his dad.
"I said, I'll tell you what Jack, don't stop running until you hit the fence. I said, just run until you hit the fence."
The play actually got off to a rocky start.
"Right when I snapped the ball, "remembers Quarterback Taylor Martinez, "he ran the wrong way and I grabbed him and moved him back the right way. "Then, I just put him around the corner and he was gone from there."
By the time, Jack made his mad dash down the sideline and all the way to the end zone, 60 thousand people were celebrating.
"It was at that moment where I just lost it. I just lost my composure, "says his dad. "I just lost it."
"I've been at Memorial stadium lots of time but it put goose bumps on you that day, "added Jamrog.
With fans on their feet, Jack was lifted off of his.
Since then, Jack has become a celebrity of sorts. He not only won an ESPY award, he even got to meet President Obama.
"He's pretty tall, "laughs Jack.
The family is now running toward another end zone, putting a stop to pediatric brain cancer.
"Raising money and raising awareness for the disease is part of our treatment plan, "says Andy Hoffman.
Jack still faces an uphill battle but thanks to that second surgery, he no longer has seizures and the chemo has shrunk what's left of the tumor.
Andy Hoffmans says "We just kind of live life one day at a time. One MRI at a time."
We usually look up to our role models but in Lincoln, they look down to a little boy fighting cancer.
"When our players step back and see the strength that a young man like Jack is able to show and the fight that he shows on a daily basis it serves as a great example for everyone of them, "explains Pelini.
One thing is clear in his continuing battle with this terrible disease, Jack Hoffman will never be alone.