The Hoffman family and two Husker players at LAX before their flight home.
By Randy York
Taylor Martinez and Kenny Bell are record-breaking playmakers on one of college football’s most explosive offensive teams. They are fierce, tough-minded, ultra- competitive. They know the intended meaning of one of Bob Devaney’s favorite quips – that “winning isn’t everything at Nebraska; it just ranks right up there with oxygen.” Truth be known, that laughable but preposterous line is probably more truth than fiction, but two Husker team leaders saw a different side of competition Wednesday night at the 21st ESPY Awards in downtown Los Angeles. Both were invited to join 7-year-old Jack Hoffman in LA to represent the Nebraska football team and to support one its best motivators and its youngest honorary teammate. Martinez and Bell not only got to see Jack win an ESPY for “Best Moment” in sports, but also seized the chance to show Jack how he inspires them every bit as much as they inspire him.
Jack’s 69-yard touchdown run in Nebraska’s 2013 Spring Game was the achievement that won an ESPY in a national online voting competition. But watching the heroic pediatric brain cancer patient take the stage inside the Nokia Theater to thank the world for his prized new ESPY gave Martinez and Bell a completely different slant on that multifaceted word “win”.
“Football’s great, but it’s a game,” Bell said, “and I learned from last night that there a lot of things far more important than just winning a game. One is family and friends and the relationships you make with the people closest to you. I’ve been blessed to make a phenomenal relationship with an extraordinary family. The entire Hoffman clan – from Jack to his parents and his siblings – really are phenomenal, and I love being around them and helping them out in any way I can.”
Martinez Calls ESPYs ‘Awesome Experience’
Bell, therefore, is in lockstep with Martinez, who called his time with the Hoffman family this week “an awesome experience” and one that “makes sense” for the Nebraska football program to support and to reinforce Team Jack, especially when the eyes of the world are focused on someone who received the team’s last game ball in the Spring Game. “I’m so glad I was there so I could see Jack win his ESPY,” Martinez said. “He’s an awesome little kid who’s gone through a lot. He’s very close to the program.”
Bell agrees that the relationship between the Nebraska football family and the Andy and Bri Hoffman family is tight. “Being with them, I just came off one of the best nights of my life,” Bell said. “To see Jack win that award live and in person was a pretty amazing thing. Being a part of something and someone making a difference in a young man’s life is exciting because he’s such an extraordinary young boy in everything he does and how he handles it. I was definitely excited for his name to be called and then watch him take his place on the big stage.
Bell Can Dig the Style and Get Out of the Way
“It was so fun watching Jack interact with all of the celebrities he met in LA,” Bell said. “All the stars there love Jack and wanted to meet him. It was that way all night long, and we got to hang out with Jack. That’s a lifestyle I’d like to lead one day – be one of those special athletes celebrating each other’s accomplishments. It was a cool deal.”
Cool, in fact, for everyone there. “You could tell that Jack was a little nervous, but he was excited, too,” Bell said. “I mean, it was fun being able to escort Jack around. People were tapping me on the shoulder all the time, asking if I could get out of the way so they could get a better look at Jack. I mean, he deserves it. He has a huge heart.”
So, too, do the Huskers who were the escorts for Jack in LA. “Taylor and Kenny are class guys,” said Andy, Jack’s dad. “They’re fantastic representatives of the football team and the program. There are probably another 98 players who wanted to be here, but they can’t all be here. It’s been a lot of fun for Jack and Taylor to hang out together for a couple days.”
Taylor and Kenny Were in LA for Right Reasons
“We’re really lucky to have people like that in Jack’s life – people that care and want to be there for him,” Andy said. “We’re truly blessed to have that kind of support. I know Taylor and Kenny were out in California for all the right reasons. They didn’t get to go on the stage. They know it’s not about them. They came for one reason – to support Jack and be there when he won the award. It’s just very helpful to have them here and be a part of it. They make it special, and that’s what Nebraska football is – special people doing special things for others. I just can’t say enough about the young men that Bo Pelini and his staff are recruiting. They get it, and they get it right.”
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