HOUSTON (CBS Houston) Defeat is not and never has been a trademark of former NFL and Rice star linebacker and special teams’ player O.J. Brigance. He is in the fight of his life against ALS; a disease that knows no cure.
However, being confined to a wheel chair while having to communicate through a machine with his eyes because he can no longer speak, has not prevented him from tirelessly searching for a cure or helping others afflicted with the dreadful disease.
ALS – LOU GEHRIG’S DISEASE
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a disorder characterized most commonly by rapidly progressive weakness, muscle atrophy, lack of physical coordination, difficulty in speaking, and respiratory compromise.
However, sensory function is generally spared which includes the nervous system not under voluntary control, i.e., regulation of the heartbeat or gland secretions and movement of the eyeballs.
ALS is a progressive,fatal, neuro-degenerative disease with most affected patients dying of respiratory compromise and pneumonia after 2 to 3 years.
UNRELENTING IN THE EYE OF THE STORM
It is estimated that approximately 5600 people annually are diagnosed with ALS in the United States. So, clearly to fight this disease, one must have courage and conviction – the kind of courage and conviction that make a mother proud.
“Wow! What a giant, what a champion,” says O.J.’s mother, Mrs. Barbara Brigance. “Emulating what David did; emulating Paul’s fight even though he had a thorn. He continues to move forward.”
O.J., also known as “Juice”, has been moving forward since his days as a high school star linebacker/center from Willowridge High School in Missouri City, Texas.
Upon graduation, Brigance would take his 4.0 high school GPA and football talents to Rice University where he would become the all-time leader in tackles for the Owls with 367. He was a three-year starter and four-year letterman at linebacker. His exploits led to All-Southwest Conference selections in 1990 and 1991.
Following his stellar collegiate career, Brigance would go undrafted but began his pro career with the Baltimore Stallions of the Canadian Football League. The Stallions became the first American team in 1995 to win the Grey Cup as Brigance and team would defeat quarterback Doug Flutie and the Calgary Stampeders, 37-20.
Brigance entered the NFL in 1996 as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins and would be voted team captain twice.
But in 2000, Brigance would finally earn a chance at a Superbowl ring when he signed with the Baltimore Ravens. That season he was second in special teams tackles with 25 and led the Ravens with 10 special teams’ stops during the postseason.
The Ravens finished 12-4 during the regular season and defeated the New York Giants 34-7 in Superbowl XXXV.
Two for the memory banks – Brigance made the first special teams tackle in the contest and he is the only player in pro football to win two professional football championships in the same city.
EXCELLENCE GOING FORWARD
Brigance retired from football in 2002 following two seasons with the Rams and one with the New England Patriots. He rejoined the Baltimore Ravens, this time, in the executive offices as Senior Advisor to Player Development in 2004.
Brigance was diagnosed with ALS in 2007. However, his contributions to the Ravens Players development Program garnered several league awards. The NFL honored Brigance in 2005 and 2006 with the Best Overall Player Development Program award.
He received the Most Outstanding Internship Program Award in 2005. The NFL once again honored Brigance’s program in 2007 with the Outstanding Continuing Education Program Award.
But, maybe even more important than the awards, Ravens General Manager and Hall of Fame tight end, Ozzie Newsome, says Brigance has been an inspiration to so many within the Ravens organization during this very challenging moment in his life.
“Here’s someone who’s facing a terminal illness and he’s fighting every day. He comes in and he has a smile and he’s able to communicate with us through his machine, and inspirational words that he presents to us are just off the charts.”
Newsome says no matter the challenges he and the organization face during the course of a day, it’s difficult to frown when O.J. is at work in his office at Ravens Owings Mills Training Facility on 1 Winning Drive.
“When you’re having a bad day and you walk by and see O.J., you’re no longer having a bad day because you get a chance to see a young man fighting for three or four years of his life and he’s still enjoying life.”
That speaks to Brigance who relies on his faith to see him through all challenges, no matter how difficult.
“The one lesson learned in my life is people’s expectations or limitations have no bearing on God’s plan and expectations of greatness in our lives!”
FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT
When O.J. was diagnosed with ALS, he and his wife, Chanda Brigance, created the Brigance Brigade Fund to improve the quality of life for ALS patients and their families. The Fund is designed to provide access to vital treatment, medications, equipment, and support services.
Brigance believes no person or family should be without help in their time of need when suffering with this disease. But most importantly, it’s how one chooses to face adversity.
“For the families walking this journey battling ALS, life is never without challenges and the courage you display by living life in spite of your circumstances serves as a great testimony of the power of God.”
The Brigance Brigade has also partnered with the Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to help discover a cure. But Brigance believes that a cure starts with having faith.
“His word declares his strength is made perfect in weakness. The assignment we have been given is not an easy one, but make no mistake, we are the chosen people to handle the job.”
His family stands in awe of what he has been able to accomplish during his fight with ALS. His father Marcus, and mother Barbara, along with the rest of his family, have expressed an appreciation for the outpouring of love and support for O.J. and his wife, Chanda.
“The greatest of anything in the Bible is love,” says Barbara Brigance. “And if love works the way that God designed it, O.J. has been healed.”