Football Legend Applauds Melanoma Researchers and Physicians

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Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese lost his first wife and numerous friends to cancer. Now, he’s using his celebrity to help raise awareness and funds.

Two-time Super Bowl champion and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese has many fans in and around the hometown of his former team, the Miami Dolphins.

On Saturday, however, Griese expressed a different view of what it means to be a fan to a room full of oncologists and other oncology professionals.

“A lot of those people I’ve met — some of them are Dolphin fans, big fans of mine back in the day,” Griese said in an interview with CURE at the 12th Annual International Symposium on Melanoma and Other Cutaneous Malignancies®.

“The days have changed, and now I’m a big fan of theirs because they’re out there, looking and striving and reaching for a cure for cancer. The sides have changed. I’m their fan.”

Throughout his keynote speech, Griese told stories of his times as a player and broadcaster. He described playing for Don Shula, who holds the record for most career wins as an NFL coach, and against Dick Butkus, who is widely thought of as one of the most intimidating defensive players of all time.

Griese drew many laughs from the audience when he described an encounter with “Mean Joe” Greene.

“I drop back to pass and I get hit, and the lights go out,” Griese said. “My right tackle, Norm Evans, is helping me up and I said, ‘Norm, I’m blind! I’m blind!’”

“[Evans] reached and turned my helmet. I was looking through my earhole!”

As a broadcaster, one of Griese’s fondest memories was calling the 1998 Rose Bowl in which his son, Brian, led the Michigan Wolverines to a 21-16 victory. Brian, a quarterback like his father, was named the Rose Bowl Player of the Game.

In speaking about his family, Griese grew serious from time to time during his talk.

Griese’s father passed away when he was 10, causing him to turn to sports and team coaches for guidance.

In 1988, Griese’s first wife, Judi, passed away from breast cancer after a five-year battle. Brian, 12 years old at the time, took it especially hard and carried the grief with him for years. When Brian established himself in the NFL with the Denver Broncos, he set out to create an organization that could help children deal with loss. In 2002, according to the organization’s website, Brian and his wife, Brook, a clinical psychologist, established Judi’s House with the vision that “no child should be alone in grief.” Since then, the group has helped nearly 8,000 children from ages 3 to 25 — a figure that’s something to be proud of, Griese said. “I’m more proud of him for doing that than anything he’s done on the football field,” Griese said.The death of his wife was Griese’s first close personal experience with cancer. Griese spoke about going to biopsies and chemotherapy sessions with his wife, as well as the fear of recurrence and fear of the unknown.

“I feel like if she would have had that disease today, she would have at least lived a lot longer than the five years that she lived back then,” Griese said to his audience. “I just wish my wife were alive today, and you guys were working to save her.”

Since then, Griese has taken an active role in fighting cancer by lending his voice and fame. He has helped to raise funds for the American Cancer Society through golf tournaments, and in 2010, he was named chairman of Moffitt Cancer Center’s national Board of Advisors.

Griese has also lost numerous friends to cancer —“as we all have,” he said — including a good friend just a couple of weeks ago.

It’s the ubiquitous nature of cancer that led Griese to accept the offer to speak to physicians and researchers.

“This is a battle we’re all in,” Griese said. “It’s a never-ending battle, and anyone who’s out there fighting to find a cure, I want to come and be a fan of theirs.”