The Relay for Life: From Bill Walsh to Bleacher Report, from Tragedy to Hope

Blaine SpenceSenior Writer IMay 23, 2009

When Bill Walsh passed away at 75 back in 2007 following a prolonged battle with leukemia, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell didn't hesitate to issue a statement in tribute of the legendary architect of the five-time Super Bowl Champion San Francisco 49ers.

"His coaching accomplishments speak for themselves, but the essence of Bill Walsh was he was an extraordinary teacher," Goodell said. "If you gave him a blackboard and a piece of chalk, he would become a whirlwind of wisdom. He revolutionized the game with his offense and will always be remembered as one of the most influential people in NFL history."

For 21 years (1977-1997) Bob McKittrick coached the San Francisco 49ers offensive line. McKittrick was known for his preference of smaller, more athletic linemen. His success with these smaller offensive lines is an oft-overlooked component of the Niners' decade of dominance.

McKittrick lost his battle with cholangiocarcinoma, cancer of the bile ducts, in 2000 at the age of 64.

In 1987, the San Francisco Giants signed a pitcher named Dave Dravecky. A cancerous desmoid tumor was found in his pitching arm in 1988. Dravecky had surgery to remove the cancer in his arm—in an attempt to eradicate all of the cancerous cells, his humorous bone was frozen.

Dravecky returned to pitch for the Giants in 1989. To the horror of a watching nation, Dravecky’s arm snapped as he delivered the ball to Tim Raines of the Montreal Expos.

The Giants went on to win the National League Championship that year, and in the postseason celebration, Dravecky’s arm was broken a second time. Upon examination of the subsequent X-rays, doctors discovered that the cancer had returned.

After several more surgeries, doctors amputated Dravecky’s left shoulder and arm.  

In 1999, Joe Torre, the manager of the New York Yankees, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The cancer was caught early and treatment was described as "routine" and "successful."

Torre’s cancer was detected during the team’s annual physicals. The test that detected the cancer was only added to the check-ups after Darryl Strawberry was diagnosed with colon cancer the previous year.  

On May 20, 2009, four-year-old Josiah Herring lost his battle with brain cancer. Herring was the grandson of Bleacher Report writer Dean Herring. Herring is known around these parts as the Gray Ghost.

For more on Josiah’s and Dean’s story, please see Zander’s tribute.

Cancer is horrible and inescapable.

If you don’t already know somebody in your life that has fought cancer, you will. It can be in your personal life, or in your sporting life. Again, it is an inescapable fact.

In just the last two years alone, the store I work for, Macy’s, has lost two of our own to cancer. As I write this, there are two others who are battling cancer.

But there is hope.

Lance Armstrong successfully battled testicular cancer and came back to win a record seven Tour de France titles.

In 1999, running back LeShon Johnson made a successful return from lymphoma to start for the New York Giants.

Andres Galarraga. Mike Lowell. Phil Kessel. Jason Blake. Jon Lester. All of them overcame cancer to play again and live normal lives.

So this is where you come in.

The Relay for Life raises money for the American Cancer Society. Ours in Redding, Calif., is May 30, and I will be captaining a team.

To find a Relay event in your area click here and enter your zip code. If there is not an event in your area and you would still like to donate, please feel free to use zip code 96001 and donate to the Macy’s Stars! 

What the Relay for Life Is Not

It is not a walk-a-thon, or run-a-thon. You don’t get pledges per mile or lap. You do not have to stay for the entire 24-hour period, unless you want to.

What the Relay for Life Is

It is a 24-hour event consisting of multiple teams. The teams raise money. The objective is to keep at least one member of your team on the track for the entire event. There is entertainment, food, and sports. There is a very moving candlelight/luminaria ceremony that honors cancer survivors and victims, but, most importantly, there is hope.

Please join me.

For other artilces on this topic check out the links below:

Read Cameon's article: A Life or Death Situation: How Far Would Your Rivalry Go? Here

Read Jeff's article: Why Sports Really Matters Here

Author's note: You can contact the American Cancer Society at:


or phone 1-800-ACS-2345


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.