2019 was a milestone year in the world of pro football. That year, the NFL celebrated its 100th season of bringing its iconic game to all of us fans. As a 24-year fan of the game, a pro football autograph collector in one of the league’s most loyal markets, that of the New Orleans Saints, as well as moderator of a football autograph collecting page, I knew I wanted to do something major to commemorate and celebrate this landmark season. I tossed around a few ideas such as attending the New Orleans Saints NFL 100 celebration in September, or attending the big game in Miami.
However, as soon as the year began, as would seem would usually be the case with an across-the-board heavily hyped event I come across, I would end up hitting a few bumps in the road. After having no choice but to move to the New Orleans area from Bossier City, LA in January 2018, the high price of living in the area, as we all know can certainly the case with a share of big cities in America, was becoming more of a problem, long story short.
And then, on May 1, 2019, I was diagnosed with a rare occurrence of oral squamous cell cancer, despite never smoking, drinking, or dipping in my entire life. Surgery at Tulane University was a success on May 17, 2019, and amazingly, just 72 hours after having a small portion of the right side of my tongue and my lymph nodes removed, I had shown up at the 2019 New Orleans Saints Golf Tournament at New Orleans City Park.
However, with forthcoming cancer and dental bills being a potential bigger threat to my debt, as well as the likelihood of me having to, hopefully temporarily, go back to Bossier for a while to be in a more feasible position to catch up on my debt, this left me in June trying to scramble for a way to commemorate the NFL’s Centennial that would be cost-effective, and would leave a lasting impression.
So, in late-May, I created the Gratitude to Greats project. I would mail letters and emails to NFL Hall of Famers and greats not yet in the Hall thanking them for their contributions to the great game, sharing the story of my ongoing cancer recovery, and asking for not an autograph, but their prayers, and, if they had a moment, a quick note of encouragement. I would also donate a few dollars to a few of these greats’ charities whenever possible.
While I did have to relocate back to Bossier temporarily, the Gratitude to Greats project went wonderfully, and I ended up being deemed cancer-free toward the end of August by a Shreveport cancer doctor whose tests had shown that a potential cancer in my lymph nodes which was believed to require radiation was found to be merely inflammation.
The project received some very touching responses. Early on in the project, I received arguably the most emotional response from legendary Raiders big game receiver Cliff Branch encouraging me to continue to have faith just two days prior to his passing. Another iconic Raider, and arguably the greatest cornerback of all time, Mike Haynes, shared with me that he was someone that, due to the fact that he is also a cancer survivor, could relate in a way not many other players could. Another response that stood out was a handwritten letter from eventual Hall of Famer Joe Jacoby, one of “The Hogs”, the great Joe Gibbs Redskins offensive line whose blocking paved the way for the offense to score three rings in the 80s and 90s for the franchise. Jacoby said he had never received a letter not asking for an autograph, but simply for prayers.
Those are just a few that come to mind…I also invite your comments on my blog entries whenever possible. These blog entries will be dedicated to the responses to these letters received in 2019 and 2020 from those greats with us who built the game, from a longtime fan who wanted to show a bit of gratitude in a year of a milestone…
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