Randy York’s N-Sider
On the only day of the year that none of the major North American professional leagues have a game scheduled, a 7-year-old pediatric brain cancer patient from Atkinson, Neb., shared the spotlight with the biggest stars and greatest legends in all of sport. Jack Hoffman, the record-holder for the longest touchdown in Nebraska Spring Football history, won the ESPY Award for "Best Moment" in sports over the past year. When he received the coveted ESPY, he was surrounded by his family, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and Husker wide receiver Kenny Bell at the nationally televised ceremony at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles.
Andy Hoffman, Jack's dad, clutched his son's hand while waiting to see who won the Best Moment ESPY. "It's beyond a lifetime for Jack and I and our family to be here tonight with the greatest athletes in the world," Andy told a worldwide audience. "If you know anything about kids and trophies, this ESPY will be cherished forever. A lot of great people had a hand in Jack standing up here tonight. We would like to thank Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini for having the guts to put a 7-year-old in a football game ... Rex Burkhead for all he's done for Jack over the past two years ... the entire Nebraska football team for making Jack a part of the team ... all the fans, especially Husker fans who supported Jack in this fight and voted for Jack ... we would like thank ESPN for helping Jack and our family help raise national awareness for pediatric brain cancer."
Jack Calls ESPY Award 'Super-Duper Awesome'
Andy then said that Jack wanted to say something before they left the stage. "This is super-duper awesome," Jack said, repeating his reaction to scoring a touchdown before 40,000 people inside Memorial Stadium last April. "Thanks for the trophy. I'm glad that you are all on Team Jack, and I know with you, we can't lose. Thanks!" Talk about confidence and handling pressure. The youngest and most soft-spoken hero of the night scored another touchdown, and ESPN's cameras captured the theater's standing ovation, not to mention emotional reactions from basketball icon LeBron James and Olympic gold medalists Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas, among others.
Such high-powered responses beg a question: How does a spirited grade-schooler who mirrors the humility of Burkhead – his hero, role model and adopted big brother – get the same kind of lights, camera and action as the MVPs of the Super Bowl, NBA Finals and World Series? “Because three days at Disneyland is a bigger deal to Jack than an ESPY,” said Andy, who doubles as an attorney for the Team Jack Foundation and its positively charged pursuit of national awareness for pediatric brain cancer.
ESPYS: Great Informercial for Cancer Awareness
“One thing that makes us all feel comfortable about the ESPYS is the cause itself,” Andy said. “Yes, there are all kinds of sports heroes and stars all over the place, but when you get right down to it, the ESPYS night is probably the greatest infomercial for cancer in the world.”
In between all the “best” athletes, coaches, teams, performances, plays and games is the staple of every ESPYS broadcast near the Staples Center – Jimmy Valvano winning the Arthur Ashe Courage Award during the inaugural ESPY telecast 21 years ago. The North Carolina State basketball coach gave the motivational speech of his life on that show and died 55 days later from metastatic adenocarcinoma. He still lives, however, in the hearts of everyone who watches the ESPYS, and that’s why Andy and wife Bri took all three of their children and a nephew to LA for a little bit of Disney and a little bit of Hollywood. As it turns out, all the lights and cameras in the world can’t upstage a family that was invited to visit the President at the White House 2½ months ago.
“Jack is still a little boy with two screws in his head,” Andy said. “He has all these football players around him, and he had the thrill of a lifetime at the Spring Game, but what he’s doing and what we’re doing is trying to educate the world about pediatric brain cancer. That’s what God has called us to do.”
Jack: A National, Perhaps International Celebrity
The Hoffman family isn't into bright lights, fame, fortune or favor. They got a kick though being part of an awards show that is more relaxed and light-hearted. Somehow, the ESPYS finds unique and seamless ways to weave in inspirational stories, like Jack’s, with the fabric of an ESPY (which stands for Excellence in Sport Performance Yearly award). An ESPY Award is different than a Grammy for music, an Emmy for television, an Academy Award for film or a Tony Award for Broadway. Award winners are selected exclusively through online fan balloting. Big Red fans undoubtedly led the charge and did more than their fair share supporting Jack, but let’s be honest here. With nearly 8.1 million views of the Huskers.com YouTube video of Jack’s most famous run, plus the views ESPN accumulated in its own national voting process, Jack is a semi-national hero and, perhaps, even a bit of an international celebrity by now.
His landmark achievement as an ESPY winner (and the gift bag that came with it) is one small step for the Team Jack Foundation and the Nebraska Chapter of Uplifting Athletes, but one giant leap for pediatric brain cancer awareness. And the best news of all? Jack’s next public appearance is Sunday morning when he will start the One-Mile Fun Run for the inaugural Nebraska Football Uplifting Athletes Road Race, presented by the Lincoln Track Club.
At least 100 Nebraska football players will join Jack and support all the registered runners and fans attending the event. Let’s be honest here before the curtain goes down on a memorable moment, based on a simple play. As for Jack and his family, one hundred Huskers are an infinitely bigger deal to them than all the household names put together from the ESPYS. No putdown intended ... just a simple fact about a simple family who will continue to live life as simply as possible.
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