Matthew Berry's Love/Hate: Never giving up
4:30 PM ET
The World Association Football League (WAFL) of Sacramento, California, is about as old-school a league as you’ll find. Touchdown only, they still keep scores and standings by hand. Ron Andre is the commissioner and, with an exception here or there, has the exact same group of folks in the league from when they started.
44 years ago.
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Ron has a son, Ron Andre Jr. Inspired by his father, he started a league. The Association World Football League (AWFL) of Pleasanton, California, was created in 1999 by Ron and includes his brother Eric and his high school teammate (and later, college roommate) Peter Lehmann. As Peter wrote me recently, the league is also an “archaic, aggravating, yet life-inspiring touchdown-only league. We still email lineups back and forth, scoring is done by hand. And although we all keep track, we eagerly wait for the commissioner to send out the official weekly results after Monday Night Football.” Peter lives in North Carolina these days, but every year he makes the trip over Labor Day weekend for their live draft, where, as that league entered its 18th season this past September, a great time was had by all — good food, beer and ball-busting the entire way.
Ron Andre Jr. has a son, Joe. And so, inspired by his grandfather’s and father’s leagues, he, too, started a fantasy football league (The AWFL WAFL, pronounced “Awful Waffle”) with his cousins and relatives, including his sister Claire, in 2014 — when Joe was 10.
The three generations of football leagues all draft over Labor Day weekend and have an annual tradition of getting together every Sept. 4, on Ron Sr.’s birthday, and comparing all the draft boards and debating which teams are the strongest.
As you might suspect, family bonds are tight with the Andre clan, drawn even closer thanks to fantasy football. So you can imagine how all the leagues felt when they heard about Joe.
It was fall 2016, and Joe was a typical teenage kid. Happy, healthy and a sports nut, he played in another fantasy football league (The Soggy Crouton league) with his school friends, two different fantasy baseball leagues and was an All-Star pitcher for his local Little League team.
Then, one day, he started to have headaches. Was this just puberty-related, his father wondered? But the headaches led to dizziness, and then Joe, normally a very good athlete, suddenly couldn’t hit anything at the plate.
Because, it turns out, he couldn’t actually see the ball.
On Sept. 26, 2016, Joe had an MRI. The reason he wasn’t able to see the ball sadly became clear. Thirteen-year-old Joe had a tumor. Brain cancer.
All of the leagues, the entire family, everyone was devastated. Life suddenly was turned upside down for a lot of people and, as Ron remembers, “My heart sank. Just a total kick in the gut.” It soon became a whirlwind. Three days after receiving his diagnosis, Joe was scheduled for surgery. And as he was checked into the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland the night before surgery, he was brave but scared.
But you knew these leagues — this family — weren’t going to let him go through this alone. They all piled into his hospital room, including his cousins and all the members of Joe’s AWFL WAFL league. “Hey, dude! There’s a game tomorrow night. We need your lineup for the week!”
Joe perked up at the question and verbally gave his lineup for the week (remember, they keep it all by hand), a lineup that included starting Andy Dalton, who was playing that Thursday night, the same day as the surgery.
Ron Sr., Ron Jr. and Joe at a recent 49ers game. Courtesy of the Andre family
Joe went under that Thursday, and the surgery lasted 18 hours. You read that right. Eighteen hours. “The doctors had discussed all the possibilities with me. When he came out of it, there was a chance he wouldn’t ever be able to speak. There was a chance he would never eat again.”
There were a lot of possible outcomes after the surgery and, well, not all of them were great.
Joe didn’t wake up until sometime late Friday afternoon. Ron looked at his son, hopeful, holding his hand. And Joe slowly turned to his father.
“How many did Dalton get?”
His father broke out into a wide grin. “I never thought I’d be so happy to discuss Andy Dalton. It was the fourth-happiest day of my life, after my three kids being born. Andy Dalton will always have a special place in my heart.”
“How awesome is that?” Peter (Ron’s college roommate) wrote me about the moment. “When we are faced with personal tragedy, often we hold on to whatever normalcy we have. For those few days in the hospital it was fantasy football, and thank God for that. Long live the Fantasy Life.”
If you’re wondering, Dalton went 22-for-31 with 296 yards and a score that night in a 22-7 win over Miami.
The doctors believe they got all of the tumor, but it has still been a long road to recovery for Joe. To the surprise of no one who knows him, Joe is still hanging tough. He has already received six weeks of proton beam radiation at the Scripps Proton Center in San Diego and is currently getting chemotherapy at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco. When I spoke with him Wednesday, he had just finished his 24th chemo treatment. He is able to go to school about Read More…
Via:: NDTV – Sports