Vahe Gregorian

Sport most special: TD run by young cancer patient is up for ESPY

If you live in Nebraska, native son Andy Hoffman says, few dreams are more vivid than the obvious one.

“For most fathers and their sons in Nebraska,” he said, “all you want your son to become is a Nebraska football player.”

Two-plus years ago, his 5-year-old son, Jack, suffered a grand mal seizure that left the family fearing for his life. He was diagnosed with pediatric brain cancer, underwent two brain tumor surgeries and went on chemotherapy.

The prospect of suiting up for the Cornhuskers wasn’t much on the minds of anyone any more, even as Jack became entwined with the program through his favorite player, Rex Burkhead.

Burkhead took such an interest in Jack that he was instrumental in organizing a local chapter of Uplifting Athletes to raise funds for the cause and invoked Jack’s name when the team was down 20-6 to Ohio State at halftime of its 2011 Big Ten home opener days before Jack’s second surgery.

“Jack’s not giving up,” he told his teammates then, “and we’re not giving up.”

Nebraska came back to win 34-27, and last season Jack remained a fixture with the team. With Burkhead’s eligibility ending after last season, Andy Hoffman reckoned that Jack’s presence around the team might diminish.

But even after coach Bo Pelini pulled him aside at the Nebraska football banquet in December and told him, “As long as I’m here, Jack’s going to be a part of this program,” he had no notion of just how much so.

He didn’t know Jack would soon have a moment to do something that would inspire 8 million-plus YouTube views and a trip to the White House.

He couldn’t know that their family — “the Clampetts,” as he playfully calls them — would be in California tonight to see if Jack wins the 2013 “Best Moment” in sports award at the ESPYs.

“This whole thing is kind of surreal,” he says.