It will be very easy for Giants Nation to embrace Nate Solder.
He became the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history because he kept the Eagles pass rush on his side of the field from laying a hand even once on Tom Brady in the Super Bowl and the Giants expect him to do the same for Eli Manning.
He will protect Manning.
And in turn Manning will support him.
Solder is not Anthony Munoz, Jonathan Ogden or Walter Jones, but he’s a two-time Super Bowl champion and a big upgrade at left tackle over Ereck Flowers, although his four-year, $62 million contract with $35 million guaranteed is more of a function of the Giants’ desperation than Solder being among the league’s elite players.
He will become the foundation of their offensive line, but the Giants were a perfect match in the part of Solder’s life that is way more important than football: His 2-year-old son Hudson was diagnosed in October of 2015 with bilateral Wilms tumors, a type of kidney cancer found in young children, when the little guy was just three months old.
“I just felt like I had done something wrong,” Solder said. “I felt like I had caused it. I felt like I had let him down. And he was so innocent.”
New York and New Jersey have world-class cancer hospitals so he knows Hudson will get great care.
It’s easy to say players follow the money in free agency and more often than not it’s true. But with Solder, the story runs deeper. Although he has not yet spoken about his signing with the Giants, it’s logical to assume if he was going to relocate after seven years in New England, he only wanted to play in a city that had facilities with a great reputation that could treat his son.
Solder had survived testicular cancer in 2014. The Patriots rave about Solder’s character and how he’s handled every parent’s nightmare. “It’s amazing what he and his family have gone through and the support that they’ve gotten for little Hudson and we’re right there with him,” Brady said on the Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon in 2016.
So, we know the Giants blew away the Patriots financially, because Boston has some of the best hospitals in the world and that’s where Hudson has been receiving treatment. Houston and Cleveland were also in Solder’s final four. Houston has MD Anderson and Cleveland has the Cleveland Clinic. Solder could not have chosen better cities known for cancer centers.
The Giants surely were able to ease any concern Solder had about his son’s future treatment with information about Sloan Kettering in Manhattan and the Children’s Cancer Institute at Hackensack Hospital, where the Giants have participated in fundraising efforts.
Then there is Manning’s shoulder for him to lean on, no small thing. Manning has reached legendary status for his work with young cancer patients. He was recognized for the time and effort and money he puts into his charity work when he was named the co-winner by the NFL of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award at the Super Bowl in 2017.
Manning says seeing kids not being able to live a normal childhood is what is so heartbreaking.
“That’s just what hit me the hardest, when you walk into a hospital or see a sick child, I hated to see that,” he said. “I hated to see a child not having just a great childhood. I thought of my childhood and it was easy. It was all fun and games and school and friends and family, there were no struggles, and they shouldn’t be struggling, stuck in a hospital for certain periods of time, where they have cancer and have to go through chemotherapy. I just hated it for the kids.”
Nate was giving Hudson a bath when he felt a lump on the left side of his son’s belly. He and his wife Lexi didn’t know what it was and were praying it would just go away. A few days later, it was still there. That began the journey that led to Hudson being diagnosed with kidney cancer.
Hudson was treated with chemotherapy and the sight of a tube sticking out of his chest and needles stuck in him was overwhelming. He remained at Boston Children’s Hospital for a week and then continued chemo. One year later, the tumors had shrunk enough that he no longer required treatment. Deep breath.
Hudson was able to attend the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory over the Falcons 13 months ago and celebrated with his dad on the field in the confetti.
The Solders were told by doctors to brace themselves that the tumors could one day be back. They had 11 months of hope before an MRI revealed the tumors had indeed returned in both kidneys last September. He’s back on chemotherapy.
“He’s handling it really well,” Solder told the Boston Globe in November. “It’s really difficult to have to restart all that stuff, but we kind of knew it was coming so we’ll do whatever it takes for him to be healthy.”
Hudson was in Minneapolis for the Super Bowl last month but watched the game in his hotel room with his little sister. “In terms of cancer or him knowing he has tumors or him knowing that’s why he has chemo, he has no idea about all that stuff,” Lexi told the Globe. “We’ll tell him, it’s not something we try to hide or try to fake it, we try to be really, really honest with him.”
The future is uncertain. The tumors could be gone again soon and may never return. Or they could return. As he gets older, the risk goes down. “I cry so much more now,” Solder told the Globe. Solder comes to the Giants knowing he’s come to the right city for his son; he has a quarterback who will show him more compassion than he knew was possible and he’s getting paid an awful lot.
One day, he’s going to win the Man of the Year Award, too. The Giants hope he helps them win another Super Bowl. If Solder gets beat for a sack, well, that happens and he can handle it. The bigger battle is his little boy trying to beat cancer.
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