Nobody asked for this story to be written, but it's a Christmas story and it just seems right to tell it.
It's the kind of story that happens more often than you might think, but is written about far less than it should be because "bad" sells faster than "good" and "prurient prying" sells better than "gentle compassion." But it's Christmas, so bear with me.
An 11-year-old boy in Queens, N.Y., named Aidan (no last name needed) has been fighting a losing battle with a rare form of cancer for some time. He is fighting bravely, the odds long and his time short, but he had one wish. He wanted to meet his hero, Jets QB Mark Sanchez.
Problem was that wish got from the Dr. Theodore Atlas Foundation to the Jets just before their game with the Miami Dolphins several weeks ago, a key game that came a week after a 45-3 thrashing from the Patriots. Teams worry about kids, but they also worry about winning and distractions, so it took some time for the word to get to Sanchez. Considering that his team lost to Miami 10-6 on a day when he played poorly, what happened next was, well, what you'd hope for. Mark Sanchez answered a family's prayer.
Not only did he and an assortment of other Jets, including Rex Ryan, share some time with young Aidan at their sprawling practice facility three days after that loss, they made a weak boy feel strong and a sad family smile. They did all they could, but then Sanchez did more. Unbeknownst to the Jets, their quarterback gave the boy his number and told him to text him before the Steelers game that Sunday.
The kid, being earnest in the way kids can be, held the number tightly and waited for Sunday, thinking those were his instructions. When several days passed without a text, Sanchez called the foundation, got the boy's number and reached out, clearing up the confusion. They exchanged texts that week and then Sanchez went off to face the surly and surging Steelers.
Pittsburgh is no place to be in December to save your season, but that was where the Jets landed. It was also where they may have done just that, winning 22-17 by scoring the final 12 points. Seven came on a naked bootleg by Sanchez, who rolled around a bewildered Steelers defense and into the endzone untouched.
As Sanchez left the field, someone stuck a camera and microphone in his face and he held up that ball and said it was for his friend Aidan, who was in a fight with cancer. Not many people knew what he was talking about, but a boy in Queens did, and so he smiled on the couch, something he doesn't do as much as he used to.
If that were the end of the story, it would be enough, but, in a way, it's only the beginning. Last Tuesday, on his day off, Sanchez called Aidan's house and asked if he could visit. It was to be a surprise, and when Sanchez arrived, the boy was asleep, tired from his ongoing struggle.
Sanchez could have left a football or a note or simply said he had too much to do the week before Christmas, including preparing for the Chicago Bears, and who would have blamed him?
He could have said he'd come another time, but a quarterback understands clock management, so he sat on the couch and waited for his small friend to open his eyes. When he did, they were as wide as any kid's on Christmas morning.
It's one thing to be taken, through the efforts of friends and family, to visit your idol in his lair in New Jersey. It's a great thing, to be sure, but here was his friend Mark, the QB, sitting on his couch!
They talked and laughed and maybe told a lie or two, the way friends do. Sanchez told him about the game and how much his new friend meant to him. Eventually it was time to go, but as he was driving away, it was difficult to know who made the other smile the widest.
Two days later, a game ball showed up in Queens from the Jets, awarded to young Aidan by Rex Ryan. He had been a part of that victory in Pittsburgh and, if you believe in karma, when Sanchez rolled out and the entire Steelers defense disappeared, maybe, just maybe, a tough kid from Queens was leading the blocking. Who can say?
You hear a lot of stories about selfishness among professional athletes these days. You hear about lunacy and misbehavior and you wonder what they're thinking. Last week, after two difficult losses, Mark Sanchez gave a little fighter from Queens something else to think about.
He gave him a reason to smile.
Ron Borges is a columnist for the Boston Herald.
This column was originally published in the current print edition of Pro Football Weekly, dated Jan. 2, 2011, which also includes feature stories on Defensive Player of the Year candidate and Steelers OLB James Harrison and how a group of proven veterans hope to lead the Jets' quest for playoff glory, as well as previews of all Week 17 games, columnists and insights into the upcoming NFL draft, handicapping and fantasy football. The Pro Football Weekly print edition is on sale at retail outlets across the country and at PFWstore.com, where you can purchase either the print or electronic (PDF) version of this issue.