The late Isaiah Casillas (22) and Jack Hoffman inspired Nebraska's Uplifting Athletes chapter.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Team Jack’s No. 1 Goal: Awareness for All

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York's N-Sider Blog

The Official Blog of the Huskers

Jack Hoffman’s inspiring 69-yard touchdown run has been seen across America and throughout the world – from every corner of America to Palau, an island country in the Western Pacific Ocean. We had one fan call in to say her husband had just watched Jack’s run on TV in Paris and less than an hour later, another fan called to relate how her son had just watched Jack’s touchdown in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city in East Africa. People in 218 countries have seen Jack’s run – an unprecedented moment for a 7-year-old cancer patient. The run went viral through, buoyed by Andy Hoffman, Jack’s dad, graciously accepting media requests from coast to coast.

The decision to be available to the media was not reached to bring more attention and exposure to Jack. It was made to reinforce what Andy and wife Bri consider the No. 1 priority for Jack’s unique place as a young Husker hero. Jack’s and Bri’s top goal is to create awareness for pediatric brain cancer, a rare disease that claims the lives of approximately three children a day and leaves the survivors with physical and neurological deficits that they may never overcome. Last Sunday, when Good Morning America, ABC World News Tonight, CNN, ESPN Sports Center and Inside Edition all asked to interview Jack and his dad, Andy and Bri had a nearly one-hour discussion. As passionate as they are about raising pediatric cancer awareness, they wondered if such high-profile media outlets would see the world the same way they do.

“We’ve known for a long time that the Nebraska media gets it,” Andy said. “They know what our foremost goal is – to get the word out and help 13,500 kids who are diagnosed with cancer every year, including 2,800 kids who are diagnosed with brain cancer. Bri and I decided we should accommodate every request we could reasonably handle.

“Since we’ve become advocates for this disease, we’ve been screaming from the mountain top that this disease needs to be placed on the national agenda,” Andy said. “The media frenzy surrounding Jack’s run gave us that opportunity. It’s helped us get pediatric brain cancer to the nation’s door step. Some let us do it; some don’t. By the end of the week, we felt like we did everything we could to elevate what can help all kids with brain cancer, not just our own. This is an awareness ride, and we try to bring the entire childhood cancer community with us. Quite honestly, that’s what drives us every day.”

Jack’s Run Has Received More than 7 Million Views

As the week progressed, awareness skyrocketed, and Jack’s touchdown run had reached 7 million views on YouTube. The Fox News Channel and Sirius XM Radio came aboard later in the week, and it was apparent where Andy was coming from. Instead of having him focus on “The Run”, he was able to focus on the disease itself. “This has never been about publicity, and we’ve never wanted the focus to be on Jack,” Andy said. “Our goal all along has been to elevate the cause and explain that pediatric brain cancer has been using the same protocol treatment for 25 years. This isn’t about Jack. It’s about every kid fighting the disease every day.”

When Nebraska made its greatest football comeback in school history in a 2011 nationally televised game against Ohio State, Rex Burkhead was wearing a “Team Jack and Pray” wristband and the commentators made a big deal about Rex’s source of inspiration just days before Jack faced surgery at Boston’s Children’s Hospital.

Rewinding that moment and fast-forwarding every experience that has come after that game is a bit of a blur for a small-town Nebraska attorney and his wife, Bri, who still works on Saturdays. Yet the Hoffmans opened up their house once again to accommodate an ESPN crew that wanted to shed new light on a run the world keeps replaying and a cause that is just beginning to get some measurably important national attention.

Team Jack Claims a Place among Masters Coverage

Chris Connelly interviewed the Hoffman family in Atkinson, Neb., this week, and Jonathan Sweet produced a six-minute ESPN feature on Team Jack. The segment was promoted at the top of Sports Center’s Friday night coverage from the Masters Golf Tournament and showcased the Hoffman family’s two-year battle with brain cancer and the amazing story of Jack taking the field last Saturday and “taking it to the house” for an historic fourth quarter game-winning touchdown – a moment that keeps playing over and over so often that it has become frozen in the minds of millions with no connection to Nebraska.

The newest Team Jack segment reinforces the love for Jack Hoffman, who may have just coined an expression that will become as popular as the “Run Jack Run” exhortation. When Connelly asked Jack what it felt like scoring a touchdown, Jack said: “I felt like a real Husker … super-duper awesome.”

The ESPN segment reflected and relived a father’s anguish and love and a mother’s love and calming influence. “It’s pretty clear to me that Bri is the rock of the family,” Sweet said Friday, indicating that Bri Hoffman quietly supports the ever-increasing public awareness of Jack’s brain cancer more than the run itself. The Hoffman and Burkhead families are bound by Jack and grounded in faith. They never seek the limelight but accommodate it in the name of a cause they jointly believe in and support.

Producer: Jack, Rex Personalities ‘Eerily Similar’

“Andy and Jack are both selfless, and Jack’s personality is eerily similar to Rex’s,” Sweet said. “They’re both selfless, both stoic and both tough.” Even though Andy is decidedly more outgoing than his son or his son’s NFL-bound friend, he’s also selfless and tough and when the rubber meets the road and he’s given all he has in him, he, too, can become stoic.

Sweet believes Andy has helped drive the cause to a new level because Jack’s dad is very knowledgeable about the disease, very determined to elevate the platform, very savvy about social media and very inclusive with symbols like wristbands and T-shirts to increase awareness. The new ESPN segment features Jack one-on-one, holding the game ball from last Saturday’s Spring Game, and explaining what he hates most – the “stupid puking” which sometimes becomes part of his chemo treatments. Watch the segment, and you’ll understand why a father and a mother want not only to help Jack, but all the other kids across the country and around the world battling the same disease.

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