After four years playing offensive tackle for the TCU Horned Frogs, Marcus Cannon was regarded as a tough player with speed and strength, making him a great pick entering the 2011 draft. In the Combine, Cannon went through the normal physical each player does. The doctors said they found “abnormalities” in his work and he needed to get further testing, specifically a biopsy on some masses they had found in his abdomen. Having gotten a needle biopsy previously in 2006 at TCU on the same abdominal masses and having the results be benign, Cannon opted for a more invasive surgical biopsy to get the true results once and for all. That testing occurred just before the April draft. It turned out the 6’5” tough man had non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
As an elite tackle at TCU, the draft analysts had him going late in the first round or early in the second round. As the diagnosis was made public, Cannon fell down many draft boards and off of others completely. His first thought was how he would tell his family. His strong demeanor cracked as soon as he got off the phone with his parents. “I broke down after that,’’ Cannon said. “I don’t know if it was more me, or telling somebody else, like thinking about what everybody else was going to feel. I just broke down after that. I got in my truck, started driving. I was crying. Hysterically. It was just fear. I didn’t know what was going on.’’
Though his thoughts were scared and worried, he admits he also thought about the money he would lose. “I got close. I started thinking about it, and I was going to say something about it and something caught my tongue,’’ he said. “I had to ask God for forgiveness for even thinking it. He has his plan for me; that’s not even something I need to worry about.”
His faith is a big part of why he feels he has come through this trial in his life.
Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is actually a group of many types of blood cancers. The diseases cover the range of severity from idle to brutally aggressive. The treatment for lymphomas can include chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, among many other options. Cannon started an aggressive treatment of chemotherapy the first day of the 2011 draft and two days later the New England Patriots traded picks with the Houston Texans and took Cannon 138th overall in the fifth round of the draft.
Cannon was immediately placed on non-football injury reserve. As the largest player (358 lbs.) ever drafted by the Patriots, it was worth the wait to them. Though he had been an offensive tackle in college, New England wanted him to be an offensive guard. After the chemo and the slow return to playing form, Cannon was activated in November. He played the last drive against the Kansas City Chiefs on November 21st. He played reserve offensive line, special teams, and finally at tackle on December 18th against the Broncos. The most action he had all season was against the Dolphins on Christmas Eve when he entered the game during the second quarter. During the Patriots’ playoff run, he saw action on special teams against the Broncos, Ravens, and finally in the Super Bowl against the Giants. In all, Cannon played in each game from week 11 through the Super Bowl.
It’s perhaps fitting that the Super Bowl was in Indianapolis, the place where his inspirational journey started. Initially reluctant to speak about his disease during the season, he later embraced the chance to be an inspiration to people all over battling with this and other diseases. In pre-Super Bowl interviews, he took the opportunity to share his message. “You can make it through,” Cannon said. “Have faith in your doctors, have faith in you faith just keep pushing on. Everything will turn out OK. Everything happens for a reason. You’ve just got to find out what that reason was.”
Proof positive of the inspirational effect Cannon has had on his team, fans and the NFL in general, the Patriots named Cannon their recipient for the Ed Block Courage Award at the end of the 2011-12 season. The award, named for former Baltimore Colts trainer Ed Block, recognizes a player of each team, nominated by his teammates, that represents inspiration, sportsmanship, and courage, and exemplify commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage. The players receive their award, a pewter football helmet engraved with the year, their name and team, at a banquet in Baltimore in March.
Cannon has a new challenge this season, earning a more prominent role on the Patriots offense. That is a challenge Cannon would gladly accept any day. “I’m doing exactly what I want to do. I know where I was supposed to go in the draft, and for me to look back on that is dwelling on the past. And what’s in the past is already gone; it’s only the future. I’m keeping my eyes forward.”
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