“Together, we will fight this and win.” -Mark Herlizch
Though Boston College football’s on-field product has been lacking the last two seasons, the program has taken fans back to better days by honoring heroes of years past. On Saturday against Syracuse University, current Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly had his jersey retired at halftime, and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will receive the same honor against the University of Connecticut later in the year.
I love that BC is honoring two of its greatest legends with halftime ceremonies this season. At worst, it sells tickets and gets reminiscent fans reacquainted with BC football. At best, it creates a sense of excitement around the future of the program for fans and recruits alike (and still sells tickets).
But I think the University can go even further to memorialize its storied athletics history. The time is right for BC to erect another statue at Alumni Stadium.
Now, with one already dedicated to BC football’s greatest legend in Doug Flutie, who should be honored with the second?
Ryan and Kuechly are two of the best, most gifted, hardest-working players to ever put on college football uniforms. They absolutely deserve the jersey retirement ceremonies they’ve been offered this year, and then some.
But, to be frank, they’re kind of boring.
Kuechly and Ryan are lead-by-example guys. They’re modest, well-kempt, straight-edge players. These are all absolutely honorable traits to have, but they’re mundane. People don’t want to pose next to a bronze sculpture of Kuechly slaving over notes from his financial statement analysis class in the wee hours of the morning the day before the big exam.
BC needs to build a statue of a player whose spirit, passion, and relentless drive embody the program. BC needs to build a statue of a player with swagger, personality, and poise.
BC needs to build a statue of Mark Herzlich.
For those unacquainted with Herzlich’s story, he was a linebacker for BC from 2006 to 2010. A standout player during his time in maroon and gold, Herzlich was ACC Defensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the Butkus Award in 2008. He was expected by many to declare for the draft after the season (and some pundits projected him to be drafted early in the first round), but he returned to BC for one final year.
In 2009—what should have been his triumphant senior season—Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, which forced him to miss the entire year. In the United States, about one in 1 million people is diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma. The five-year survival rate has improved substantially over the past few decades, but the disease still kills about 40 percent of those in Herzlich’s age range who contract it. Thus, Herzlich required extensive treatment, and the chemotherapy caused him to lose all of his hair.
But he fought, and he fought, and he fought. And eventually, he won.
On ESPN’s College Gameday on a fall night in 2009, right before a nationally-televised game between BC and Florida State at Alumni Stadium, Herzlich announced that he was cancer-free. The Eagles would go on to win the game over the Seminoles 28-21 in Herzlich’s honor.
Though his hair still hadn’t grown back at the time, he was a fixture on the BC sideline during games that season, cheering as if he hadn’t missed a beat. In 2010, Herzlich would prove that to be the case.
Herzlich played in every game at linebacker the next season, turning in another stellar performance and leading BC to an appearance in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Though he went undrafted in the 2011 NFL Draft, Herzlich signed with the New York Giants shortly after and has played for the team ever since.
Not only did Herzlich inspire fans with his story, but he inspired his teammates every day. Herzlich’s absence from the lineup opened up a spot for Kuechly, a true freshman at the time, to start. Kuechly shined from the first day, and the two formed a formidable linebacking tandem when Herzlich returned in 2010.
“Mark kept us grounded in perspective,” Kuechly said. “Watching him go through chemo and battle cancer, you understand that we’re all playing a game. Mark’s energy and enthusiasm through the whole ordeal really inspired us all to play harder.”
Herzlich, who was just as successful as Kuechly and Ryan during his time at BC, had a personality that towered over his physical body. He would smear eyeblack on his face in the fashion of a superhero mask. Once his hair grew back from the cancer treatments, he grew (and still maintains) a mohawk.
Just as Flutie’s classic game-clinching pass against the University of Miami was one of the University’s most iconic moments, Herzlich’s victorious battle against cancer (in addition to his stellar on-field career and his booming personality) is the stuff of legend at BC. He deserves to have a statue outside of Alumni Stadium.
Flutie’s only concern? That Herzlich’s statue would overshadow his own existing one.
“Man, he’s a Greek god,” Flutie said of Herzlich, who was friendly with Flutie’s nephew Billy at BC. “I’m just like a little kid on the corner compared to him.”
Herzlich perfectly embodies the spirit of BC football. He was a tough player who would grind it out every Saturday afternoon, no matter the circumstances. He played with unwavering passion, he won with unmatched style, and he exuded an unbelievable level of ferociousness that few have matched on the Alumni Stadium turf.
These qualities are exactly the ones that need to be breathed back into the program. By honoring Herzlich with his own statue, BC would honor a deserving candidate and show future recruits what being an Eagle is all about.
Featured Image by Abby Paulson / Heights Editor