In the closing minutes of the alumni game at Michigan Stadium, John Navarre shoveled a short pass to Phil Brabbs running a crossing pattern across the middle of the field. Brabbs dove back toward the line of scrimmage and made the catch.
Not bad for a former kicker. But this return to the Big House turf was particularly special for Brabbs.
Just a year earlier, directly following the 2010 alumni game, Navarre had paid a visit to his former Michigan teammate. Brabbs wasn’t laying out for a catch then — he was lying in a hospital bed after receiving his first bone-marrow transplant.
Brabbs is known in Michigan football lore for rebounding from two missed field goals to hit a game-winning 44-yarder as time expired to topple Washington, 31-29, in the 2002 season opener. But on Aug. 8, 2008, the day after his 29th birthday, Brabbs was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare, incurable cancer of the plasma cells.
According to his wife, Cassie Brabbs, her husband’s first prognosis was that he had five years to live. The couple created a website to promote awareness for multiple myeloma and work toward finding a cure, creating a clothing initiative to go along with it, everything embroidered with Brabbs’s motto: “Dominate.”
Returning for the alumni game was just another sign of his attack on the disease. Brabbs grinned, looking down to scuff his shoe on the 45-yard line at Michigan Stadium, and gave his latest news.
“I’ve been off chemo for a couple months, but the cancer’s 97 percent gone,” Brabbs said. “Possibly this week I might get a clean response, no cancer detectable.
“It’s an incurable cancer, so we have to try to continue to treat it and try and get in front of the disease to where hopefully in the next five, 10 years you’ll see a cure.”
His ability to fight back against multiple myeloma, Brabbs says, began back when he was a Wolverine, wearing No. 34 and the winged helmet.
And it all started with his mentor — former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr — and some poetry.
“When I was here with Coach Carr, he always preached mental toughness,” Brabbs said. “He made us read these poems about battling, going into battle, and when you lie down you always get back up, no matter how many times you fall down.”
Nine years after graduating from Michigan, Brabbs still credits the Michigan football program with offering critical support.
“I talked to Coach Carr, (Michigan coach Brady) Hoke, and even when Rich Rodriguez was here there was that brotherly love and family love that comes from being a part of the Michigan family,” Brabbs said. “You’ve got that block ‘M,’ and you’re part of that family.”
And just as his family — Cassie and their three children, Ocean, Iris and Ruby — has pulled together in the last two-and-a-half years, Brabbs likes where his Michigan football family is headed as well. And he should know, since Hoke was the Wolverines’ defensive line coach during Brabbs’ tenure with the team.
“You feel the championship culture, the brotherhood, hearing right from Hoke what it means to be Michigan,” Brabbs said. “He’s out there reminding us what Michigan is, and we all know in our hearts that it’s great to hear that from the coach.”
But Brabbs’s fight with multiple myeloma is nowhere near over. The estimate was that he had five years to live, but Brabbs has taken that like a challenge. And he’s dominated.
Lined up wide right of Navarre at the spring game, Brabbs had on another product of his attack on multiple myeloma: a maroon wristband reading “Cancer Kicker — dominate.”
“I know nothing but that domination culture that I’m going after — that’s part of the maize and blue blood — it’s about being the leaders and best in everything you do, and when you’re faced with adversity, try to end up on top,” Brabbs said.
– For more on Brabb’s fight against multiple myeloma visit mmfordummies.blogspot.com and dominategear.com