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Trent Dilfer was in the news last week for all the wrong reasons. Trevin, the 5-year-old son of the former Baltimore Ravens quarterback, had been admitted to the intensive-care ward of a California hospital with an undisclosed virus that attacked his heart. At press time, Trevin remained in critical condition.
The episode puts Dilfer, the signal-caller for the 2000 NFL-champion Ravens, in an odd class: Super Bowl quarterbacks whose children have suffered serious disease or injury. It’s just weird. And sad.
Mark Rypien was named MVP of Super Bowl XXVI, leading the Washington Redskins to a 37-24 rout of the Buffalo Bills. He was released by the Skins in the middle of the 1993 season and subsequently tagged up with Cleveland, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Atlanta. He then quit football in 1998 to care for his son, Andrew, who was diagnosed with multiple malignant brain tumors. Andrew died in August 1998. Rypien, who returned to the league in 2001 as a backup with Indianapolis, and his wife have helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Brain Tumor Society in recent years through an annual 5K race.
Jim Kelly is the only quarterback to appear in four consecutive Super Bowls, which he did with the Buffalo Bills from 1991 through 1994. Shortly after his son, Hunter, was born on Valentine’s Day 1997, the infant was diagnosed with Krabbe’s disease, a genetic disorder that attacks the central nervous system and leads to blindness, deafness, and paralysis. Life expectancy for Krabbe’s sufferers is typically one year, but when Kelly was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year, he used his speech to pay tribute to the toughness of his 5-year-old son. Kelly founded the Hunter’s Hope Foundation and has raised more than $5 million to promote awareness of the disease and to aid families of children similarly afflicted.
Onetime Maryland QB Boomer Esiason led the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl in the 1988 season and was named the NFL’s MVP that year. In 1993, his 2-year-old son Gunnar was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that usually leads to lung failure and early death. Only half of its sufferers live past their 20s. The four-time Pro Bowler, who retired from the NFL in 1997, has said he extended his playing career to promote awareness of the disease. That’s also why he founded the Boomer Esiason Foundation, which over the past decade has raised more than $5 million for cystic-fibrosis research and funded the establishment of the Gunnar Esiason Cystic Fibrosis Clinic at Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital.
Kurt Warner’s soap-opera rise from supermarket stockboy to Super Bowl quarterback has been told and retold every time he’s taken the Rams to the big game. A big part of that story is his relationship with his adopted son, Zachary, who is blind and severely brain-damaged as a result of a fall he suffered as an infant. In 2001, Warner and his wife, Brenda, founded First Things First, a religion-based foundation that gives money and publicity to St. Louis-area charities such as Camp Barnabas, a Christian retreat for disabled children, and the Ranken Jordan Pediatric Rehabilitation Center. Zachary is now 13.
Rich Gannon quarterbacked the Raiders in the most recent Super Bowl, losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 1998, when Gannon was with the Kansas City Chiefs, he had to leave training camp to tend to his infant daughter, Danielle, who had been rushed to the emergency room after a drastic weight loss. She was ultimately diagnosed with celiac disease, a chronic and potentially fatal digestive ailment that prevents the body from absorbing nutrients and can lead to intestinal cancer and diabetes. In 2000, Gannon partnered with the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research to raise funds to combat the disease. He used the platform of his first Super Bowl to promote awareness of the ailment. He now markets Danielle’s Decadent Chocolate Cake, a cake mix designed specifically for those who suffer from his daughter’s condition.
Folks around here might best remember Jeff Hostetler for his bitter cup of coffee with the Redskins, but the highlight of his 12-year career came when he QB’d the New York Giants to a Super Bowl win over Jim Kelly and the Bills in 1991. In June 1999, his 8-year-old son Tyler was paralyzed when the all-terrain vehicle he was driving near the family’s farm in West Virginia flipped over on him and caused a severe spinal injury. Doctors told the family Tyler might never walk again, and Hostetler declined invitations from many NFL teams to come out of retirement, focusing instead on greater participation in his son’s rehabilitation. It took a couple of years of hard work, but Tyler has regained nearly all of his motor functions. Last year, he was invited to the White House by the Children’s Miracle Network, a charity founded by Dukes of Hazzard star John Schneider and Marie Osmond to promote awareness of advances in spinal-cord-injury treatment.
Billy Kilmer, the hard-living, hard-playing leader of George Allen’s Over the Hill Gang, took the Redskins to their first Super Bowl in 1972. Kilmer’s daughter, Kathy, then 13, suffered from cerebral palsy. Throughout the festivities leading up to the big game, he wore a pin with a presidential seal given to him and Kathy by President Richard Nixon, a friend of Allen’s. Kilmer later taped public-service announcements on behalf of the White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals.
In 1985, Dan Marino took the Dolphins to the Super Bowl. In 1991, Marino’s toddler son, Mike, was diagnosed with severe autism. A year later, Marino established the Dan Marino Foundation to assist families with children who suffer from developmental disabilities. That led to the Dan Marino Center in South Florida, where an average of 3,500 children per month come in for testing and treatment. Marino often works on autism charities with Doug Flutie, the former Heisman Trophy winner and USFL and NFL vet, whose son, Doug Jr., suffers from the disease. Flutie never appeared in a Super Bowl, but he quarterbacked both the Calgary Stampede and the Toronto Arognauts to the CFL championship, the Grey Cup. Dave McKenna