In the first week of October, AFC powerhouse, the New England Patriots, took the field against surprise conference leader, the Cincinnati Bengals. It was a game both teams needed to win. It was the Old Guard against Cinderella. The winner would, at least early in the season, establish themselves as the team to beat in the AFC. Ronn Torossian recalls that, although there was a lot on the line for each team, neither was entirely focused on the game at hand.
Leah Still, the daughter of Bengals defensive tackle, Devon Still, is fighting pediatric cancer. It’s a tragic diagnosis for any child and a horrific situation for any parent to endure. Even more so for a parent who must perform before a national audience playing a game a week – week after week. As a professional football player, you have to be focused and sharp with your mind totally on the game, before and afterward. Having a sick child at home, how could you maintain your solid stance as an effective player – how could anyone?
Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriots, obviously felt the same way. Instead of allowing his team’s opponent to suffer in silence, Kraft orchestrated the event so that the entire stadium shared, just for one night, Still’s struggle. During the second half of the game, New England’s cheerleaders donned Still’s Bengals jersey. Let me repeat that again – In the hyper-competitive, money first industry that is the NFL today, an opposing team’s cheerleaders wore the other guy’s uniform. Afterward, it was announced that Robert Kraft would donate $25,000 to the Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center in Leah’s name.
But the Patriots’ nod to Still and his daughter did not stop there. The game stopped, the crowd stood, and all of Gillette Stadium treated Devon Still to a standing ovation. For that one shining moment, rivalries were put aside and even die-hard fans raised their voices for a 25 year old father who had to watch his 4 year old daughter go through surgery to remove a tumor, her right adrenal gland, and all of her lymph nodes.
The video is sobering: A young man is visibly moved, his teammates gather around him offering hugs and silent encouragement, as the other team’s cheerleaders rev up the crowd to offer support for a sick little girl. Ron Torossian described the moment as heartwarming.
There is another matter that needs to be said – something that’s tough for a New Yorker to utter in reference to New England, but that is apt and true – Mr. Kraft, that was a class move, class all the way.