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Team Jack has been a part of the Nebraska football conversation for more than a year-and-a-half now. On Monday, April 29, 2013, that conversation went from one small step in Husker lore to one giant leap nationally and even internationally. What many national commentators were calling the biggest play of the year in sports became the biggest and most important 15 minutes in Team Jack history. Over the noon hour Monday, President Barack Obama hosted six loyal members of Team Jack – 7-year-old pediatric brain cancer patient Jack; his parents, Andy and Brianna; his two younger sisters, Ava, 5, and Reese, 2; and the coolest, calmest catalyst for bringing awareness to any disease … #22 Rex Burkhead, who made it to Washington D.C. so he could meet President Obama with his “second family”.
“Having Rex with us to meet the President was awesome … super-duper awesome,” Andy Hoffman said, using the same expression Jack used when he scored a 69-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of Nebraska’s Spring Game earlier this month. “Getting those 15 minutes with the President was a chance of a lifetime for all of us. This isn’t just a football-related conversation anymore. It’s a national conversation for all the kids across the country and around the world with pediatric brain cancer. We still don’t know why God chose us to help raise awareness for this horrific disease, but it’s a responsibility we accept.”
Somehow, mostly through national columns, network television analysis and countless TV and radio interviews with Andy defining a quarter-century of neglect in a uniquely positive way, Team Jack became famous. In fact, on Sunday, while the family was waiting to see the U.S. Constitution as D.C. tourists, one person standing right next to them in line, pulled out Jack’s memorable run on his smart phone and asked if the kid standing next to him in the red tee-shirt with “Believe” on it, was the same boy in the video. Andy and Bri’s smiles answered the question. “I knew it,” he said, explaining he was an Oklahoma fan who had watched that inspiring Spring Game touchdown run more than once.
In fact, when an emotional U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) met with Obama, one of the Hoffmans’ family friends didn’t even have to explain who Jack was because the President already had seen his TD video on YouTube, along with nearly 8 million others. “I can’t say enough about Senator Fischer’s resolution last week that was unanimously approved to designate Sept. 26, 2013 (Jack’s 8th birthday) as National Pediatric Brian Cancer Day,” Andy said, adding how surreal it can be when you’re standing next to the president of the United States and having a conversation.
“All of us want to fight this disease and beat it,” Andy said. “This is truly a bi-partisan cause and a bi-partisan effort, and it’s humbling to see a U.S. Senator and the President of the United States putting this disease on their shoulders and trying to find a better way to tackle it. Getting national attention and the awareness that goes with that attention is a great place to start. We thanked the President for our visit and let him know that it should help us start a truly national conversation about pediatric brain cancer.”
The President presented Jack with a football in the Oval Office. Dressed in khakis and wearing his favorite jersey, Jack looked up and connected with the President eye-to-eye. Obama looked down and told Jack how proud he was of him. Fully invested in the moment, Jack is engaged and involved. But just like his “big brother” – who will be introduced to his new NFL home in Cincinnati Tuesday – Jack also was quiet and appreciative. Study the classic photo at the top of this column. You’ll see how even a 7-year-old can communicate without saying a word.
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