Babe Laufen­berg dis­closes that his son has leukemia

Laufen­berg aches as leukemia strikes 19-year-old Luke

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - By BARRY HORN Staff Writer bhorn@dal­las­

Cow­boys an­a­lyst and former NFL quar­ter­back Babe Laufen­berg dis­closes that his col­lege foot­ballplay­ing son, Luke, has leukemia.

All those years play­ing quar­ter­back in col­lege and the NFL, Babe Laufen­berg made Christ­mas trips to try to lift the spir­its of sick chil­dren in hos­pi­tals. His very last col­lege game was at East-West Shrine Game. It raised money for chil­dren’s hos­pi­tals. The NFL Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion once sent him all the way to Alaska on a hos­pi­tal mis­sion.

All those years his wife, Joan, a re­tired nurse prac­ti­tioner whose spe­cialty was pe­di­atric on­col­ogy, came home with gut-wrench­ing sto­ries from her work­day.

“Never in your wildest imag­i­na­tion do you ex­pect it to be your child,” Laufen­berg was say­ing the other day,

Surely it would never be your 6-31/2, 235-pound, 19-year-old, col­lege foot­ballplay­ing son.

Luke Laufen­berg has leukemia. More specif­i­cally, he has Burkitt leukemia, which the Na­tional Cancer In­sti­tute de­scribes as “fast grow­ing” and “rare.”

When Luke was first di­ag­nosed the day af­ter Christ­mas, the doc­tors told his par­ents

that the dis­ease had in­fil­trated 95 per­cent of their youngest son’s bone mar­row.

The im­me­di­ate pre­scrip­tion: seven months of chemo­ther­apy.

If only the doc­tor who first ex­am­ined Luke back at his ju­nior col­lege in Ari­zona and told him he had the flu had been cor­rect.

Laufen­berg re­mem­bers that by the time Luke came home from Mesa Com­mu­nity Col­lege in mid-De­cem­ber, the boy was in such hor­rific pain that mor­phine did noth­ing.

That was be­fore the Cow­boys trav­eled to Oak­land for a Dec. 17 game against the Raiders. Laufen­berg, the Cow­boys’ ra­dio an­a­lyst, worked the game.

Funny what points of ref­er­ence can be used in chart­ing the com­ings and go­ings of a NFL broad­caster.

By the time the Cow­boys played Seat­tle at home the next week on Christ­mas Eve, ev­ery­one knew it was more than the flu that made Luke’s unchecked pain un­bear­able for his fa­ther to wit­ness. But there was no di­ag­no­sis yet. Laufen­berg worked the game.

“I knew some­thing bad was hap­pen­ing,” Laufen­berg said. “I felt there would not be good news.”

A fa­ther’s sor­row

The bad news came Dec. 26. Babe Laufen­berg be­gan cry­ing. Un­con­trol­lably. He cried just about all the time. He cried be­fore he went to bed at night and first thing when he woke in the morn­ing. He cried, he said, “for two straight weeks.”

For the first time in his decades work­ing Cow­boys games, Laufen­berg, a Cow­boy from 1989-90, didn’t visit their locker room to prep for the next game.

Five days later, he worked the sea­son fi­nale in Philadel­phia.

He thought about not mak­ing the trip but weighed that against hav­ing to an­swer ques­tions about why. Gre­gar­i­ous on the out­side but in­tensely pri­vate on the in­side, he shared his story with fel­low broad­cast­ers Brad Sham and Kristi Scales, some close friends but few oth­ers.

Sham will tell you he lis­tens back to all Cow­boys broad­cast with a crit­i­cal ear. He will also tell you he was as­tounded by his part­ner’s per­for­mance, which didn’t skip a beat. If it sounds trite to be men­tion­ing such rel­a­tive minu­tiae at a time like this, here’s Sham on his friend:

“As a fa­ther, I am in awe of him,” he said.

Laufen­berg de­cided to pub­licly share his story Fri­day af­ter Luke fin­ished his first round of chemo and was home with his mother. He checked with Luke to make sure it was OK.

The fa­ther choked up in the telling. He paused sev­eral times to re­gain com­po­sure. Once he could tell you ev­ery­thing you needed to know about spread of­fenses. Un­for­tu­nately, now he can also re­cite ev­ery­thing he knows about spread­ing leukemia.

Friends show sup­port

Laufen­berg says his “sweet” son can be rel­a­tively up­beat when he isn’t retch­ing from the chemo and mega doses of drugs.

Of one thing the fa­ther is cer­tain. Luke, who has lost 57 pounds dur­ing his or­deal, is de­ter­mined to re­turn to the foot­ball field.

Luke has joked that his im­pend­ing come­back will make a great story for ESPN’s 30

for 30 fea­ture se­ries. Af­ter all, it has been de­ter­mined that when he caught three passes in Mesa’s sea­son-end­ing bowl, his leukemia was al­ready spread­ing. You think Ja­son Wit­ten, who once played with a lac­er­ated spleen, is tough? How about Luke Laufen­berg play­ing with leukemia?

In the good old days in high school at Ar­gyle Lib­erty Chris­tian, Luke caught passes from close friend Nick Starkel, now a quar­ter­back at Texas A&M. Luke, once a tight end like Wit­ten but now a bud­ding wide re­ceiver, spent a sea­son at A&M as a pre­ferred walk-on be­fore mov­ing on to chase his play­ing dream.

Starkel has vis­ited his buddy in the hos­pi­tal. So too did Ohio State coach Ur­ban Meyer and quar­ter­back J.T. Bar­rett when they were mak­ing ran­dom rounds dur­ing Cot­ton Bowl week. Luke and Bar­rett, a Texas high school prod­uct, rem­i­nisced about time spent to­gether at sum­mer foot­ball camps. Turns out Meyer once coached at Ohio’s Bowl­ing Green State Univer­sity, which has been re­cruit­ing Luke out of Mesa. He said he would put in a good word there about Luke.

Luke’s older brother Joe Wil­lie hap­pened to be a coach­ing in­tern last sea­son at USC, which played against Ohio State in the Cot­ton Bowl. Let it be known that a 22-year-old paid USC staff mem­ber has slept in his brother’s hos­pi­tal room.

Ja­son Gar­rett, Troy Aik­man and Roger Staubach also have vis­ited.

All the talk about fa­mil­iar foot­ball and his star-stud­ded cast of vis­i­tors has made Luke smile.

“Mo­ti­vat­ing Luke now is his try­ing to get back to foot­ball,” his fa­ther said. “We have our di­ag­no­sis. So here we go.”


Luke and Babe Laufen­berg stand on the side­line at Mesa Com­mu­nity Col­lege. Luke, the 19-year-old son of the former Cow­boys quar­ter­back, has been di­ag­nosed with leukemia.

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