The best running backs are the ones that simply refuse to go down.With that in mind, future opposing defenses better hope Cade Spinello’s mom has her way.
“If it were up to her, jeez it might be tough to convince her after all he’s gone through to actually let him play. But he’d love it. He’d be a running back.” Said 7 year-old Cade’s father, Mike.
Well Mom, its going to be awfully hard to convince your son not to try and put on pads after he spends this weekend at the Super Bowl in New Orleans.
And the Super Bowl is just the ending to what has been a storybook “dream season” for the little star from Southern California. He’s already had a Pop Warner game played in his honor, led a high school team through a tunnel of cheerleaders, called his own number at a UCLA football practice, spent time sizing himself up against Green Bay Packer star linebacker, Clay Matthews, and practiced with the Wisconsin Badgers at the Rose Bowl.
“About 10 days after he had suffered the stroke we noticed the life in his eyes came back. We could see his spirit, his personality and even though he couldn’t talk we could see he was back,” Spinello says, “after that we knew, ‘We can do this. He’s back.'”
So began Cade’s comeback. Just as anyone who has ever stepped on the gridiron knows, the real work is done in the off season when no one else is looking. It’s an every day fight to get better and an everyday test of commitment and willpower.
“We’d call it my ‘coach’s voice’. I’d tell him, ‘my guys are in the gym now working. Even though its January and the season is over, they’re in there fighting and getting better and that’s what you have to do. You’re just like them. Every day getting better.’ and I’d call him Spinello (his last name) just like I talk to players.”
Coach, sounds like you’ve done this before.
Kind of. Mike Spinello played linebacker at UC Santa Barbara and after his playing career quickly got involved in coaching. He spent 8 years coaching the sophomore linebackers at Mission Viejo High School in Southern California. Yeah, that Mission Viejo, former high school of Mark Sanchez.
Coach (and Dad’s)’s words also rang true with Cade in a different way. While he spent the next year and a half in rehab and undergoing chemotherapy treatments to continue to fight the original tumor, Cade made a friend.
NEGU stands for ‘Never Ever Give Up” and its idea was to bring joy to any kid fighting cancer or any serious illness. In the spirit of the 12 year-old who came up with the idea, the way to do that, was simple: Joy Jars. Little jars filled with cards, play-doh, crayons, toys, anything that could make a hospital room feel more like home.
The true mark of a leader is leaving a path to follow even after your gone. That was Jesse’s legacy. She passed away last January 2012, but NEGU continues and its spawned ambassadors like her original chemo buddy, Cade.Cade picked up his pop’s knack for inspiring people and while continuing his rigorous, 6 hour a day, rehab he’d also help fund raise and pass out joy jars. Like any player putting in the work in practice, Cade’s work and story got noticed.
First, the local Pop Warner team asked if he’d like to come to a game and the teams would play in his honor. Then the local high school found out and had to step it up. Coach and son lead the team onto the field. Word got out. UCLA came calling. Cade spent an afternoon with the team handing out wrist bands, meeting the guys and even got a chance to run a play from scrimmage.
“He was supposed to take the fake hand off and run as decoy. Instead he took the ball and kept running.”
Dad knew things like these were too good to be true and he had to share. So he’d post on his facebook page and keep a blog on a website. Just a place to keep the memories as his son kept fighting, kept getting better, kept running.What he didn’t know, was a guy who used to be his back up in college was following, reading and cheering on Team Cade. Sports has a funny way connecting, and in this case, reconnecting friends and Cade’s amazing story did just that.
Kirk Langer had been following Mike Spinello since his days on the sidelines at UCSB.
“He was LB1 and I was LB2. He was a senior and I was a sophomore. He was the kind of guy I looked up to.” Langer said.
Don’t let the flowery words confuse you though.
“Believe me, I didn’t want to be his back up. He was number one for a reason, he was a better player than me. More than that, Mike is one of the best people I’ve ever met.”
While they were in college, Mike may have been the better player but it was Kirk who made it to the big game first. Langer works in the sports world, as a lot of former athletes do, and he’s been to the Super Bowl eight–yes, 8!–times. Not bad for the guy who had to hold the clipboard. Well, for the past few months Kirk would read and watch and share the stories of his former teammate’s son. The kid who wouldn’t go down and then it hit him.
“I was reading about it online and seeing all the things and different teams and experiences Cade was having and I just knew, the only way for this season to end, he’s got to go to the Super Bowl!”
Supposedly its pretty good game to see.
“It’s the greatest sporting event there is!” Langer exclaimed from New Orleans.
“The feeling of the entire stadium shaking on the opening kick-off. When all the lights are on and all the cameras are flashing and everyone is standing, its like the whole world lights up.”
Come this Sunday, Cade and his dad are going to experience that feeling.
It might take a while for the magnitude of it all to sink in on the kid though.
“He knows it’s big, knows its a rare thing and he likes telling people he’s going.” Spinello said.
“His favorite thing in the world right now though is to play with me in the hallway. He’ll try and tackle me and get the ball so he can run it back for a touchdown.”
The way Cade’s been running so far, come Sunday, whichever team is lining up to kick off Super Bowl XLVII, they might take comfort knowing an unstoppable 7 year-old won’t be running it back.
At least not yet. He still has to work on Mom.