Nebraska UA Scores Big
Nebraska UA Scores Big

Nebraska Uplifting Athletes Scores Big

Sunday, April 07, 2013
Scott Shirley

The 2013 Nebraska Spring Game was a special day for Uplifting Athletes and their biggest fans.  Fullback and Uplifting Athletes chapter president C.J. Zimmerer came up with the idea to get Jack involved in the spring game. Jeff Jamrog, football operations, called the Hoffmans on Friday to tell them the Huskers had a special play planned for Jack.  The rest is history.

Jack Hoffman, seven year old pediatric brain cancer patient, was the inspiration behind the Nebraska chapter of Uplifting Athletes one year ago.  His friendship with star running back Rex Burkhead launched a campaign for the Uplifting Athletes "Rare Disease Champion" award that rallied the entire state around "Team Jack" and their fight against pediatric brain cancer.

The team has lifted up Team Jack.  In the first year, over $300,000 has been raised to research this rare disease.  Yesterday, little Jack returned the favor and lead the Huskers down the field on a 70 yard touchdown run...carrying all of Husker nation on his back!

Please enjoy Randy York's N-Sider blog and the ESPN.com video about this special moment included below: 

Whenever Andy Hoffman and his 7-year-old son Jack wake up Sunday morning, they may have to pinch each other before that first bite of toast. It’ll be interesting to see which one asks the other about a dream they both lived but still can’t quite grasp. Talk about the ripple effect of an audacious idea that gets a lift from circular logic, yet somehow soars to the top of the nation’s conscience at an unbelievably critical time.

How else can you describe a loving father and a brave son closing in on the finish line of a 60-month chemotherapy protocol for brain cancer and then, all of  a sudden, the world is focused on you? It is also focused on the University of Nebraska, on head coach Bo Pelini and his football program, on Jack’s historic and heroic 69-yard touchdown in Saturday’s annual Spring Game, and, of course, on the disease itself.

The sports world not only paused and took notice of this creative idea, but relished and embraced it, reported and promoted it and finally elevated it into a league of its own, right in the middle of March Madness and the Final Four. What are the odds of that?

Pint-Sized Hero Poster Child for NU's Program

What we have here, Husker fans, is a new, pint-sized national sports hero that has stolen all kinds of hearts clear across the country. When a 7-year-old leads Nebraska – which has college football’s best overall record over the past 50 years, not to mention an unprecedented 325 consecutive home game sellouts – awareness soars, so let me count a dozen ways:

1) Jack becomes the game’s leading rusher on one magical play.

2) Jack receives the game ball in the locker room from Coach Pelini.

3) Jack becomes the No. 1 video “Play of the Day” on ESPN.

4) Jack is swarmed by Nebraska media, warmed by national response.

5) ESPN plays, replays and keeps Little Jack in constant rotation. (WATCH VIDEO)

6) ESPN.com headline asks: “Is Jack’s touchdown the greatest one ever?”

7) Erin Andrews of Fox Sports tells nearly 1.8 million Twitter followers: “I love Nebraska, Bo Pelini, and the fball team for allowing that little fan to have a moment like that today!

8) Actress Alyssa Milano tells 2.4 million followers: “OMG! MUST see! Tiny cancer survivor scores in Nebraska's spring game & Nebraska go NUTS”

9) ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt tweets how "a 7-year-old named Jack Hoffman & Nebraska reminded us why we love them.”

10) ESPN’s Stuart Scott and SI.com’s Stewart Mandel follow join the fun.

11) Larry the Cable Guy tweets that “Jack got-r-done!!” and “made a lot of people happy today. Tell him Mater was cheering him on.”

12) Jack, his dad, plus a friend and his dad, eat dinner with Rex Burkhead and parents Rick and Robyn, then drive 3½ hours back to Atkinson, Neb.

After a Day in Sunshine, Time for Church, Reflection

By Sunday, the whirlwind will stop for breakfast, for church and for reflection.

Since the N-Sider was invited into this entire scenario to help a courageous little kid and the pediatric brain cancer cause from the onset, Jack’s dad shares the sanctity of the experience with total humility, complete honor and sincere respect for everyone who made it all possible.

Andy Hoffman loves the way fullback C.J. Zimmerer, the president of Nebraska’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes, socialized the idea with receiver coach Rich Fisher, assistant AD Jeff Jamrog and Pelini, who spoke with the Hoffman family at Nebraska’s football banquet last December and let Jack and Andy know that they remain an important part of the Husker family even though Rex Burkhead will be moving on to the National Football League.

“Today was another ‘once-in-a-lifetime-experience’ for our son,” Hoffman told me.  “Coach Pelini is world class. Truly there are no words to describe what this means to Jack and our entire family. Watching Jack run ahead of both teams towards the North end zone, I was absolutely overcome with emotion. Our heart overflows with gratitude for what Coach Pelini and his staff has done for our son.  It truly means the world.

“Jack is so incredibly blessed to have had today’s amazing experience,” Andy said. “We’re thankful to Coach Pelini for the opportunity, but we also thank God that He has given Jack the physical ability to make that run today. Pediatric brain cancer is a horrific illness. For Jack to undergo two very deep brain tumor surgeries and almost a year of chemotherapy, we find it amazing that he has the ability to physically run 69 yards. It’s   nothing short of a gift from God.”

Coach Pelini Kneels, Connects with Players, Jack

Inside the doors of a postgame locker room, Jack received the game ball, and the Huskers shared a spiritual moment. Coach Pelini and his team went to a knee, and Nebraska’s head coach held a player’s hand on the left and a 7-year-old’s hand on the right. Like Pelini did at a pre-bowl practice, Pelini then asked Jack to “break it down”.

What a special moment that was when Jack got the game ball in the locker room,” Andy said. “It’s one that he will never forget nor will I. Jack was absolutely pumped when he was invited to join the team on the field. He loved running with the football. Taylor Martinez was so gracious. He was helping Jack every step of the way, starting on the sideline when Joe Ganz was drawing up the play. What a fantastic ambassador for the program! Everyone exemplifies such great character.”

Zimmerer again took Jack under his wing on Nebraska’s sideline Saturday. “C.J. has been there every step of the way during Jack’s fight,” Andy said. “It really meant a lot to Jack and our family that C.J. was such a big part of today’s touchdown run. We can’t thank Coach Pelini enough for everything that he’s done for Jack and our family this past year.”

I tell Jack I remember how he challenged and then beat Rex in a full-field race from the South end zone to the North end zone a year-and-a-half ago. Then I asked him which race was more fun – the one where there were only a couple people watching or the one where at least two-thirds of the 60,000 fans were watching, plus a national television audience. Jack looked puzzled and thought for a few seconds, then saw a light bulb come on inside his head. He smiled broadly. “Both!” he said. “I like both the same!!”

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