We interviewed Giants star Mark Herzlich when he was in Manhattan recently. Mark plays both linebacker and tight end. His story was extra special to us because he is a cancer survivor — he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, bone cancer, and instead of giving up, he fought back and returned. He was injured in August, though, and isn’t playing this season.
Did you ever doubt becoming a pro footballer?
I did. I always had the goal in my mind that I could do it and I could play football again and I could reach the NFL. But when you set goals very very high like that, sometimes days come where you don’t feel like you’re going to be able to make it. And when those days did come, and when I did maybe have some doubts, I just relied on the people around me to share that with them. Some of the doubts that I did have, because you can’t always hold all that pain inside of you and that fear inside of you, you’ve got to be able to help share that with people.
What do you do now for people with cancer?
There are a bunch of things I do. One of the biggest things I do is I speak to kids and I speak to adults and parents when they are first diagnosed and let them know that just because they got this diagnosis doesn’t mean that their lives have to completely change. Like, there is life after diagnosis. And it can be just as good or even better.
Do you play any other sports besides football when you were a kid?
I did. I played football, I played lacrosse and basketball. I actually did swim team and tennis team as well. I played all the sports.
Why did you choose to go to Boston College?
My grandmother lived in Boston, and so I knew the town a little bit, and it was really what I call the best combination of both football and education that I could get. In high school I never thought I would be an NFL player. I just knew I could go to school and play football, so I wanted to make sure I got the best education I could possibly get and have fun playing football. So that’s what I did, and I’m very happy I got that degree I did, because football is going to end. At the end of the day, it’s all about how much education you get while you’re able to do your sports.
Why did you choose number 94, and would you rather have 44?
That’s a great question. I got 94 when I first went to Boston College. That’s the number that they assigned me. And I really think that you kind of make your identity with your number, right? So I got 94, and then I said, OK, this is my number, and I’m going to make it mean something. And then it started to mean something to me as a player, and then it started meaning something to people who were following my cancer diagnosis. And so I got 94 again with the Giants. And I was very happy to have it again, because it had meaning. But now, I’m doing multiple things with the Giants, and 44 — the number that will be part of a next chapter, playing some tight end — will be what I make of it.
Do you watch your own games?
I do. One of the pleasures of doing it professionally is that they film every game from three or four different angles, and we watch every angle and analyze it. So when you win, it’s great because you get to watch you win like four times. But if you lose, you get to watch yourself lose in four different angles, so that’s no fun.
What do you do when you’re not playing football?
I like to travel a lot. My wife and I, we spend a lot of offseason in Hawaii and we work out and we have two English bulldogs that are like our kids. So we take the dogs to the park and we go swimming with them, do hiking and boating. So we like to be outdoors. We’re very active.
Do you always talk about the game when you’re in the huddle?
The huddles last a short amount of time. And so you’re just getting the call and going out and executing it. So there’s not a ton of talking that goes on in the huddle, other than play ball.
Are there any players you like tackling more than others?
Yeah, I like tackling the people with the ball more than not. But no, it is kind of exciting when you play against like Adrian Peterson and tackle him. He’s the guy who’s going to be in the Hall of Fame. And playing against Drew Brees and Tom Brady and those guys, you respected them and grew up watching them since you were a kid, and now you get to play against them. That’s pretty cool.
Who is your best friend on the team?
My best friend on the team right now, probably, really a lot of the linebackers in my room, Devon Kennard and Jonny Casillas and Keenan Robinson. We always spend a ton of time together. And we go through this journey together just having fun.
How did you play football again after you recovered?
It was a lot of work initially, and painful, but when you have a journey and a goal in mind on that journey, every time there’s something that holds you back, or someone who tells you no, which is what happened when I was playing football again, was that I kept pushing because I wanted that goal. I wanted to play again and physically it was hard. Mentally it was hard, too. But it was purposeful. And I think that that fight being purposeful led me back.
What was your first thought when you were diagnosed with cancer?
The first thing that I thought was, “Why did this happen to me?” I felt like I didn’t really deserve it. I felt that maybe I was better than cancer, but in reality, after a few hours, the thought turned from “why me?” to “how can I beat this?” And so, it went quickly from a scared feeling to a fight/conquering feeling.