Brackett's family tragedies fuel his desire to help others

Every NFL team features many players who do great things in their communities. Over the next two weeks, NFL.com will feature one player from each team and highlight their efforts. In this installment: the AFC South:

Gary Brackett, Colts

Colts defensive captain Gary Brackett might be looking at a long six-month recovery after tearing his labrum this season, but that's nothing compared to what he endured during his first two years in the NFL when he lost his mother, father and his older brother within the span of 17 months.

In October 2003 Brackett's father Granville, a Vietnam vet who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, died of a heart attack. Three months later his mother Sandra went into the hospital for a routine hysterectomy and suffered a stroke in the recovery room. It was Gary who made the painful decision to take her off life support after convincing his siblings it was for the best.

Growing up in New Jersey, Brackett was particularly close to his mother who was an ordained minister and even sang in her church choir.

"Not well," said Brackett. "I definitely don't have the best voice but I blended in and did it for my mom."

Soon after, his brother Greg was diagnosed with T-cell leukemia and the Colts allowed him to return to New Jersey to get tested along with his four siblings to see if he could potentially be a bone marrow donor. Gary was the only match.

"People always hear that it's a painful procedure where they have to extract fluids from your spine with a big needle, but that's in only 30 percent of the cases," said Brackett. "I was part of the 70 percent where they extract the white blood cells directly through a vein in your arm and replenish them with red blood cells and plasma into your other arm."

Despite the transplant, Greg died a few months later, but it hasn't stopped Gary from advocating for bone marrow donation. He has since participated in donor campaigns in Indianapolis to encourage people to register and has helped fund the process.

"It costs $21 per person to register in order for the organization to check to make sure the blood is clean," said Brackett. "They need to make sure the potential donor doesn't have any diseases or immune deficiencies that would eliminate them, and the processing fees add up."

Besides donor registration, Brackett also supports numerous other causes through his IMPACT Foundation, including assisting children who are mentally and physically challenged.

Brackett's autobiography, "Winning: From Walk-On to Captain, In Football and Life," came out on Dec. 13. It chronicles his experiences going from being a Rutgers walk-on and an undrafted free agent to being a Super Bowl champion, all while dealing with the struggles in his family.

"It's an underdog story about facing adversity," said Brackett. "But after nine seasons, I'm still in the NFL."

Owen Daniels, Texans

Houston's Owen Daniels might have the nickname "The Weatherman" due to his meteorology degree from Wisconsin, but he's spreading a whole lot of sunshine to sick kids and their siblings in the Houston area.

The tight end started frequenting the local Shriners Hospital with teammates five years ago and decided to start his own foundation, Catch a Dream, last year to provide for children and families in need.

"I like to go and see the kids' faces in the hospital and try and make them smile," said Daniels. "Some are there for a couple days and some are there for a long time, so a smile goes a long way."

One of the things he's most proud of is something called "Owen's Locker," which is an actual full size locker located in two Houston children's hospitals and jammed with things to occupy the kids and their siblings who might be going stir crazy while waiting for treatment.

"All the hospitals really had were some magazines and a few VHS tapes by way of entertainment, so we partnered with Wal-Mart and stocked the locker with DVD players, movies, laptops and Nintendo PSPs to keep them occupied," said Daniels. "It's a long day for the sick kid, but it can be a long day for a brother or sister who are waiting around for them to get treatment and are stuck in the hospital too. It also eases the parent's mind knowing they're busy."

But what about old-fashioned entertainment. Does Owens ever get up in front of them to do his best Al Roker or Sam Champion for amusement?

"I don't know if the kids are all that into weather," said Owens, who has been in front of a few green screens and says it's harder than it looks. "But I think weather's fascinating so maybe I'll try and find a couple kids that like it. They'll probably like their Nintendo more though."

Players in the community

   All 32 NFL team web sites do a good job detailing their players' great work in their communities. NFL.com is taking this time during the holiday season to spotlight one player from each team. In case you missed any, here are the features that have run so far: 

Cortland Finnegan, Titans

The TitansCortland Finnegan's on-field reputation precedes him. Unnecessary roughness calls and a famous on-field fight with Andre Johnson last season have earned him quite the ferocious reputation between the lines.

So he's not exactly the type of guy you would expect to don an overstuffed turkey costume to tell an 18-year-old cancer patient that despite what the doctors told her, she's not going to miss the annual Thanksgiving Day race she has done every year since kindergarten. That's because he was going to push her those five miles himself.

Turns out that Finnegan's on-field rep is the polar opposite of his off-field reality.

Finnegan met Kelsey Towns at Vanderbilt's Children's Hospital during the 10 months she was going through rounds of chemotherapy for Synovial sarcoma.

"I thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world — besides my wife," Finnegan said to a local newscast. "She lit up my day with her smile. And the rest is history."

He started by sending her season tickets and then become a regular fixture by for her side for chemo and recovery periods after her surgeries. Finnegan, who says she considers Towns like part of the family, actually honored her in his own family when he and his wife, Lacey, gave birth to their first child in April and named her Lyla Kelsey.

Now that Towns is cancer free, Finnegan has concentrated his efforts on his ARK31 Foundation he began in 2009. ARK, an acronym for Acts of Random Kindness, focuses on serving children with special needs and disabilities throughout the middle Tennessee area. Finnegan's older sister suffered from Down syndrome and passed away at the age of seven from complications with the disorder.

As for his on-field antics, sources say he has mellowed considerably since the birth of his daughter, and according to the Tennessean, after his biggest blow up (the fight with Johnson) he texted Towns to apologize 10 minutes after the incident while still in the locker room.

Not such a turkey after all.

Josh Scobee, Jaguars

Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee's first job was selling snow cones in high school before moving up to scooping Baskin Robbins, so it's not surprising that he's still serving food that puts smiles on people's faces.

An advocate for Meals on Wheels, which provides food for the elderly or the disabled who are not able to cook for themselves, Scobee has gone door to door in the Jacksonville community delivering the meals and spending time with the recipients.

"My dad had cancer when I was 12 and we needed someone to come around once a week to give us groceries," said Scobee after a delivery run. "It's something I'll always remember and was special to my family so I'm happy I can help out in some way."

Scobee is also the host of the annual Meals on Wheels charity golf tournament in October which raises most of the yearly $80,000 needed to provide more than 1,000 meals that are delivered everyday in the community.

The kicker has also put his money where his foot is by starting a "Kicks for Kids" program last year which donated $250 to the Wolfson's Children Hospital for every kick he made in a home game, and was able raise $10,000 for the cause.

Lucky for the kids that Scobee is clutch, prompting a fan to start selling quite the popular t-shirt in Jacksonville proclaiming the Jags might have "99 problems but a kick ain't one."

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