FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Mark Sanchez cleared his throat again and again, trying to suppress the wave of emotion. The boy, Aiden Binkley, he had befriended just weeks earlier lost his battle with cancer. And now, the Jets quarterback felt the void.
"My man, Aiden. It's breaking my heart," Sanchez said Tuesday on "The Michael Kay Show" on 1050 ESPN radio.
The 11 year old, who lived in Bellerose Village, died from rhabdomayosarcoma on Dec. 30, just weeks after meeting the Jets quarterback through a foundation. He was buried Tuesday.
"He brought me so much inspiration," Sanchez said, before choking up again. " . . . It's hard to talk about him. He meant the world to me and I felt like I've known him forever and I barely met him. Just the last couple of weeks I saw his personality, I saw his competitive spirit, I saw him fighting every day. I'm complaining about a shoulder. Are you kidding me?
" . . . He was 11 years old and he has cancer eating away at his body."
To no one's surprise, Sanchez and Binkley became fast friends. Binkley just had a way with people. He was an old soul who lived a full life and instantly drew in strangers with his bubbly personality.
"He can make a friend in about two seconds," said his father, Michael. "And once he gets you, he gets you."
And he got Mark.
Binkley and his family visited the Jets training facility Dec. 15, four days before their Week 15 game against Pittsburgh. The young boy was sick and in severe pain, but he wouldn't let on. He beamed as he greeted players like Dustin Keller and Antonio Cromartie and team owner Woody Johnson.
To the surprise of his parents, Sanchez turned to him and said, ''Hey Aiden, you have a cell phone? Take my number."
And in that moment, a friendship was born. By the time he got back into the car he was utterly exhausted. But he wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
"It meant everything to him and he was willing to suffer to do that," said his mother, Lisa.
The family feared Aiden would pester Sanchez mercilessly, but in fact, Sanchez looked forward to their regular text message conversations just as much as his young buddy. Shortly after the Jets' 22-17 win over the Steelers, Sanchez was on his cell phone - talking to Aiden.
Two days later, the quarterback showed up at the Binkleys' home on his day off to surprise him. Aiden was asleep on the couch, so Mark sat and waited. When Aiden finally rolled over and opened his eyes, he shouted: "Holy crap! Mark, hi, how are you?"
The Binkleys still are struck by Sanchez's generosity and genuineness. The quarterback could have signed a jersey or a football, they said. Or just taken a picture with their son.
"I would want him to know just what a difference he made in the last few weeks of Aiden's life and just how thankful we are to know him," Lisa said of Sanchez. "And that there are people like him in the world, that are just so kind."
The Jets held a moment of silence in Aiden's honor before their regular-season finale against Buffalo - yet another show of support from an organization that the Binkleys believe has given so much already.
"They just lifted up a sick boy," Michael Binkley said. "I know people that are fans of different teams and maybe they won't root for the Jets, but they're like, 'Sanchez. I'll root for that guy forever.'"