Wednesday, February 1, 2012

So Long and Goodbye: My January Cancer Peep

Unlike past Cancer Calendars which mostly focused on famous people and poking fun at celebrities, the 2012 Cancer Calendar will be composed of Cancer People who impacted my life in some way, with personal anecdotes and their stories of triumph, or tragedy.

Dan Turk

Saturday, January 15, 2000

My friends and I played tackle football in Zeke’s yard, because PepperoniNip and I would have been incapable of just sitting around. The Washington Redskins’ NFC semifinals game was later that afternoon, following a six-year playoff drought. My excitement could not be bucked. We finished playing by 4:00 p.m., enough time for me to scamper through the woods back home and watch the Redskins play the Buccaneers for a spot in the NFC Championship.

At age sixteen, my heart could handle my weekly Redskins viewings; if I had been sixty then perhaps not. They were usually filled with shrieks of joy, or jumping on my couch and screaming at players or referees, or scolding my viewing partner—my dad—for proclaiming a field goal “good” when it is clearly heading wide right.

The Redskins blew a 13-point lead in the third quarter, but managed a 52-yard field goal attempt with 1:17 left in the game. The snap from Dan Turk was low, and couldn’t be handled by the quarterback, Brad Johnson, who failed trying to convert a pass on the botch. The Redskins lost 14-13.

If the snap was clean then maybe the Redskins would’ve won. The following week, the Bucs lost to the Rams in the NFC Championship, 11-6. Maybe the Redskins would’ve won. The Rams beat the Titans in the Super Bowl, 23-16. Maybe the Redskins would have won. If not for Dan Turk.

I blamed Turk for the loss and felt rage towards him. All he has to do is snap the ball. How hard is that?

The following season the Redskins and Bucs clashed again, on October 1, 2000. I had just finished my first round of chemotherapy to treat the bone cancer that had infested my left hip, leaving me unable to play tackle football ever again. Unable to eat, concentrate, or see the end of that horrifying treatment road ahead of me, I felt depressed. I watched the Redskins game with PepperoniNip, embracing a three-hour reprieve from cancer with one of my best friends. Dan Turk was no longer on the team.

The Redskins blew a lead again, this time ten points. The game went to overtime. Deion Sanders returned a punt 57 yards; the Redskins kicked a field goal, and won, 20-17. PepperoniNip and I went buck wild, my appetite and concentration returned swiftly, depression vanished, and bone cancer eventually vanquished. As I’ve stated before, sometimes sports have value beyond simple athletic competitions.

PepperoniNip and I joked that they’d have lost if Dan Turk was the long snapper. But like me, Turk was competing against not a Buccaneer, but disease—he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer months before. He kept his disease quiet, and received treatment at the University of Indiana medical center. "In the big picture, it's not something people want to hear about,” he had said.

Turk passed away less than three months later, soon after I finished my fifth cycle of chemo. In the big picture, Turk made a single mistake at a bad time. He did not deserve the wrath of me and my fellow Redskins fans. I will never forget that picture he painted for us…or that long-forgiven botched snap.
Testicular cancer survivor and Washington Redskin Dan Turk


Anonymous said...

The hit Dan Turk put on then Cowboy Deion Sanders during a punt return is still the greatest hit I ever saw. It was helmet-to-helmet, clean and knocked Sanders out. Gave him a concussion too. In a word- beautiful.

Benjamin Rubenstein said...

I tried all kinds of search terms to find that hit, but didn't see it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Thinking about Dan makes me nostalgic for that Brad Johnson-led team, and excited for the playoffs tomorrow. If you locate the hit on YouTube then please post it here.

Peggy said...

Danny did not have testicular cancer, but Mediastinal Germ Cell Tumors. The tumor was the size of a softball, and was located in both lungs and his heart. Had Danny received proper care during the season when he was seen by Redskin doctors numerous times, he would not have been in that game to make a bad snap. Dan's chances of survival would have been extremely high had the Redskin doctors simply used a stethoscope on his chest during the times they examined him before a few of his last games.

Trust me when I say that Danny was more devastated by the bad snap than anyone.

Peggy Turk

Benjamin Rubenstein said...

Hi Peggy, thank you so much for sharing and I apologize for getting the facts wrong about Danny. After reading your comment, I looked up some of the articles about him from 2000. That is terrible to hear about his poor medical care. I'm sorry for your loss and I bet he was more devastated than anyone.