February 02, 2018
MINNEAPOLIS – Chris Hogan was joking that some mysterious force may yank down his arms every time he tries to make a catch on Sunday in Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles. The New England Patriots' wide receiver will be wearing fluorescent green silicone bracelets on both wrists as he does every game in the memory of Nick "Head" Colleluori and the charity named after him, the HEADstrong Foundation.
There's just one major problem with that: Colleluori, who died Nov. 28, 2006, at the age of 21 from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, was an avid Eagles' fan – as is his family, originally from Holmes, Delaware County, and the founders of HEADstrong, a charitable non-profit dedicated to research in finding a cure for blood cancer and to help families affected by the disease.
HEADstrong has raised nearly $10 million and has aided over 14,000 cancer patients. HEADstrong currently owns two homes in the Delaware County area for families whose relatives are getting treated by local hospitals for cancer, in addition to holding hundreds of events each year, mostly lacrosse related, throughout the country, topped off by their annual Lime Light Gala (the 8th annual will be held this year on Friday, March 9, 2017 at Hilton Philadelphia at Penn's Landing).
Hogan has actually played a large part in HEADstrong tapping into the NFL community. He's grown close to the Colleluori family, frequently texting them during the season.
"The Colleluori's all contacted me and it's pretty unique, they being all diehard Philly fans, and a Philly family and Eagles' fans," said Hogan, a standout lacrosse player at Penn State who used his last year of collegiate eligibility to play football for Monmouth. He was cut three times by NFL teams before finally latching on with the Buffalo Bills. "The Colleluori's have appreciated everything I've been able to do in spreading awareness of their cause.
"I know they're going to be rooting for the Eagles, but I also feel that in the bottom of their hearts, they're going to be rooting for me as well. I never got a chance to meet Nick, but I wish I would have with all of the things I heard about him. He was 5-9, maybe 160 pounds and he played football [for Ridley as a nose tackle] like he was 6-6. His brothers tell me stories about what a competitor Nick was, and how much he cared about the teams he played for.
"Wearing the bracelets and trying to spread awareness about HEADstrong, I'd like to think that I carry a little bit of that fire that he played with. I do it for Nick's family, because that HEADstrong Foundation is everything to them, and you can tell within two minutes of meeting them how much they care about what they do. I'm grateful for them to take me in the way they have."
Hogan, from Ramapo, N.J., would easily be a fan-favorite if he were an Eagle. After posting career numbers in 2016, with 680 yards receiving, averaging 17.9 yards a catch, the 6-1, 220-pound six-year veteran missed seven of the Pats' final eight regular-season games with a shoulder injury in 2017 before returning in New England's 35-14 divisional playoff victory over Tennessee, catching one pass for a touchdown.
"Chris carries the spirit of my brother Nick on his shoulders, and he wears it so well," said Pat Colleluori, Nick's brother, who is the chief Marketing officer of HEADstrong. "I and my family will be rooting very hard for No. 15 [Hogan]. We are really torn. It speaks to the authenticity of the lacrosse brotherhood. It speaks of Chris' character, and Chris so much embodies Nick and how Nick played and lived. The funny thing is, Nick loved the Eagles.
"Near the end of Nick's life, he wrote this powerful letter to his [Hofstra lacrosse teammates] prior to a huge game in the NCAA Tournament. Writing from a hospital bed, it said: 'The time is now, play for the present, live for today, because you never know what the future has in store for you. I thought I would be the last person in the world to get cancer, but I got it. You never know what life is going to bring … I'm receiving surgery on Friday. I will be at the game on Saturday. You can bet your ass on that. When you step on the field, know that I with you.'"
Pat sent the letter to Chris prior to New England's AFC Championship game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Hogan responded by saying, "I needed that," then caught two passes for 20 yards, one a 17-yard reception in the third quarter on a crucial third-and-five play at the New England 30, in the Pats' 24-20 AFC championship win.
"Being injured was frustrating, but I'm very blessed to be in the position that I'm in," Hogan said. "I'm a father with twins. I still make the commute on off days back to Long Island to be with my wife [Dr. Ashley Hogan, formerly Ashley Boccio, an All-American lacrosse player at Penn State]. When she comes up to visit, she leaves at 2:30 in the morning to make it back to the hospital in time to perform surgeries."
Hogan comes from North Jersey, lives in Long Island and plays for those hated Patriots, but there is a lot of "Philly" in him.
"My parents instilled hard work in me, and now with Ashley and the babies, I'll do everything and anything for them," Hogan said.
And apparently for an avid Eagles' fan that he never met yet carries his memory.