The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Thursday, October 1, 2009 -5A
Finding peace n a kick
How one game-winning field goal prepared a former Wolverine for a life-changing diagnosis
By RYAN KARTJE
Daily Sports Writer
It was halftime of Michigan's
2002 football season opener
against Washington, and walk-on
kicker Philip Brabbs stood at the
north endzone, peering anxiously
at the towering goalposts.
He'd hit two field goals from
more than 60 yards out before the
game began, but now, he fired off
kick after kick, missing some into
the Michigan student section - a
section that showered him with
boos after each individual miss.
It was his first game in a Michi-
gan jersey, and Brabbs was blow-
The first mistake came earlier.
With nine minutes remaining in
the first quarter, he lined up for
his first collegiate field goal try
from the right hashmarks - 36
And as the first half winded
down, Brabbs lined up anoth-
er from 42 yards. The ball was
marked at the left hashmark
- an ideal placement for any
right-footed kicker - but the ball
wobbled out of the holder's hands
and through the air like a knuck-
leball, wide left and under the
Former Michigan coach Lloyd
Carr did what he had to do with
a player who cost the Wolverines
six points. He sent Brabbs to the
With just over a minute remain-
ing in the fourth quarter and the
Wolverines trailing the Huskies,
29-28, Troy Nienburg, Brabbs'
backup, had a chance to secure
the win from 27 yards with a field
goal of his own. He missed and
the Wolverines had seemingly
run out of chances.
But after a controversial fum-
ble call and a 12-men-on-the-field
penalty, Brabbs was given one
He walked onto the field with
five seconds remaining and the
weight of 110,000 fans on his
shoulders. His walk from the
sideline was a peaceful one.
"I kind of felt like things were
scripted atthat point," said Brabbs
seven years after the moment. "I
missed two field goals, one real-
ly badly, and you'd think all the
pressure in the world would be on
top of me, and I feel fine. I didn't
know what the purpose of that
game would be in my life ... but
I knew things were going to fall
As time expired, the kick sailed
seamlessly through the uprights
and a deafening roar filled
Michigan Stadium. ESPN play-
by-play announcer Brad Nessler
called Brabbs "a cult hero in Ann
"The third time is indeed the
charm," Nessler announced.
It was Brabbs' five seconds of
fame, every kicker's dream come
"He did something today that
will never be forgotten," Carr told
the Daily after the game.
Since then, Brabbs, now 29,
rarely speaks about his miracu-
lous kick. His wife, Cassie, says
that only when prompted does he
discuss those final seconds.
But the peace that Brabbs felt
walking to his triumphant field
goal, "a peace beyond understand-
ing" as he described it, has stuck
with him six years later - when
he needed it most.
.3:'Sys. F'i . "i. ::
Former Michigan kicker Philip Brabbs missed t wo field goals in the first half against Washington in 2002. But this kick sailed through the uprights as time e xpired to give the Wolverines a 31-29 victory.
A BIGGER BURDEN
Brabbs was visiting his family in
2006 when the first signs started to
Several nights in a row, he woke
up dripping in a cold sweat and
complaining of sharp pains in his
chest. Doctors at St. Joseph's Hos-
pital diagnosed Brabbs with a pul-
monary embolism, a blockage of the
main artery of the lung, and doctors
put him on a blood thinner.
After moving back to Ann Arbor
from his home in North Carolina
and having stopped his treatment
on blood thinners, Brabbs' health
issues continued with a blood clot,
first'in his right leg and then in his
"I'm thinking, 'I'm in the hest
shape of my life, why am I having
all of these health issues?'"he said.
Results revealed that his total
protein level was elevated, so
Brabbs and his family went to Little
Rock, Ark. for a gamut of tests to
hopefully resolve his recent influx
But months of examinations
and reassurance from doctors that
he shouldn't be concerned were
proved wrong - his diagnosis was
more serious than anyone had
Brabbs was diagnosed with
multiple myeloma, a cancer of the
white blood cells, which is almost
unheard of in adults his age. And
since the disease affects the blood
and not a specific part of the body,
Brabbs would have to deal with the
illness for the rest of his life.
"I made the mistake of doing
internet searches ... and everything
I found said that Phil only had five
years to live," Cassie said. "When I
saw that, I felt like everything just
ended right there. All of our plans
and dreams were just gone.
A feav days following the diagno-
sis, friends from the Brabbs' church
offered to watch their two kids,
Ocean and Iris, and allow the cou-
ple to have some time alone togeth-
er. The two didn't have much to
say to each other, but after awhile,
this is an opportunity to focus on
what's important in life."
COMING OUT OF THE
For Shawn Lazarus, Brabbs'
story hit home.
Six months before Lazarus heard
of Brabbs' diagnosis, his father was
also told he had multiple myelo-
"I'm just thinking, here's
my son, and depending on
where this thing progresses
and where it ends, he might
never really remember me:.
- Philip Brabbs
only on the football field but also in
his battle against cancer.
"For Phil, you don't come back
from missing two kicks and make
the third without any confidence,"
Lazarus said. "He's going back to
where his mind and heart need to
be to find the resolve now that he
found to kick that field goal that
won that game."
Lazarus wasn't the only former
Wolverine that tried to contact
After starting his own blog enti-
tled "Multiple Myeloma for Dum-
mies" to keep his family updated on
his status, Brabbs was contacted by
at least 30 or 40 former teammates
that found the site and emailed,
called or sent along messages to
show their support.
For Birahhs, the support hrings
him back to that game-winning field
"All of those people were there
in that one moment," Brabbs said.
"And now they're back now to lift
me up, to encourage me to take on
the treatment, take on the disease."
FINDING PEACE - AGAIN
The overwhelming support
Brabbs has received following the
diagnosis is no surprise to those
"He's just one of those guys on
the team that everyone loved," said
Jim Richardson, Brabbs' father-in-
law. "I swear, he is one of the most
positive and upbeat people on the
Another moment from Brabbs'
football career stands out to Rich-
ardson as an example of the admira-
tion and respect he had among his
On kickoff duty in 2002 against
Illinois, the Illini returner darted
down the field before fumbling
Brabbs' kickoff, leaving the ball
directly in front of the junior kicker.
Without hesitation, Brabbs picked
up the fumble and ran toward the
opposite endzone, only to be tackled
just before the goal line.
Richardson remembers the mob
of winged helmets that surround-
ed Brabbs. It didn't matter to his
teammates that he hadn't scored.
To them, their kicker, with just
three field goals in his collegiate
career, was a positive inspiration.
Brabbs will start a clinical trial
of chemotherapy next month in
hopes thathe will be able to under-
go a stemecell transplant soon after.
Despite the inevitahle hardships
of the oncoming an"ths, Brahhs
When his field goal soared
through the uprights against
Washington, Brabbs had no idea
what purpose it would serve in his
In the same light, Brabbs
acknowledges that he has little
idea what the meaning is behind
his diagnosis, but his family and
his faith is being strengthened
because of it.
"The same thing is going on
through my head as it was during
(the field goal)," Brabbs said. "I
should be feeling all this pressure,
I should have all these doubts and
questions and insecurities sur-
rounding my disease that I'm fac-
ing, but I have complete peace. I
can't explain it, but I feel like this
is what has been dealt.
"I think there's a purpose behind
it and I don't know what that is, but I
hope it's agame-winning field goal."
conversation inexplicably turned to
one of Brabbs' favorite childhood
movies, "The Lion King".
"I envisioned Simba losing his
father, and that's when I broke
down," Brabbs said. "My son at that
point was two-and-a-half, so I'm
just thinking, here's my son, and
depending on where this thing pro-
gresses and where it ends, he might
never really remember me. That's
when I felt like I was stabbed in the
"Since that moment, I feel like
ma. So when Lazarus found out
that Brabbs had the same illness,
he immediately called his former
teammate despite having only talk-
ed to him once or twice since his
final season in Ann Arbor.
Lazarus,'a defensive lineman on
the 2002 team, couldn't help but
compare his teammate's courage
with that of the biblical story, David
To Lazarus, Brabbs' faith and
ability to seebeyond himself is what
has separated him as a person, not
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