TAMPA — In a stadium with more than 65,000 fans, it would be hard for one person to stick out. Let alone, a school-aged boy with a Tom Brady jersey on his back and a Bucs cap that didn’t quite cover the scar that could be traced from the back of his head to the top of his neck.
But sitting with his father in the lower level of Raymond James Stadium behind the Buccaneers bench where the wide receivers usually congregate, Noah Reeb had a plan.
A colorful sign — TOM BRADY HELPED ME BEAT BRAIN CANCER — and the kind of perseverance only a true survivor understands. Not to mention, a kindly woman who lifted Noah up so his sign stood out among the sea of other fans and spectators.
At some point during Sunday’s game against the Bears, Bucs receiver Chris Godwin spotted Noah in the bleachers and told Brady to turn around and take a look.
He couldn’t have known it at the time, but Brady and Noah had a connection. Earlier this year, someone from Noah’s extended family had gotten word to Brady about a then-9-year-old flag football player from Utah who was a huge TB12 fan and was battling brain cancer.
A player of Brady’s stature gets countless inquiries like this every week and there are only so many he can possibly answer, but this one seemed to touch him. Brady recorded a video that he sent to Noah’s mother, Jacque, on Instagram.
“Hey Noah, how are you doing? I just wanted to let you know I’m thinking about you,” Brady said in the video. “I know you’re one of my biggest fans in Utah, and I know you’ve got a great family that loves you, and support your mom and dad and your siblings.
“And I just want to let you know I’m thinking about you, I’m with you, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Hang tough. You’re going to be great, I know it. Get well soon and take care, bye bye.”
It had been a long haul for the Reeb family ever since Noah began experiencing severe headaches last December. Doctors initially thought the migraines were caused by hormones, according to a recent Deseret News story, but the Reebs wanted more tests run.
Finally, in February, a walnut-sized tumor was discovered in Noah’s brain.
What followed was two surgeries and months of chemotherapy and radiation. It was around this time that Brady’s video messaged showed up on Jacque’s Instagram account.
“Noah and I were in the car (still parked in our driveway) emotionally broken down, having a heart to heart about mental toughness through adversity,” she wrote under the Brady video. “Then, out of the blue, this (video). What?!! We both looked at each other and started sobbing more. Then laughing.
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“And Tom Brady … you’re the greatest. You just relit a big fire of courage in this little boy’s cancer fight.”
By mid-May, according to a Go Fund Me page, the tumor had disappeared from the images taken of Noah’s brain. There were more radiation treatments to come, but there was also a sense of relief, joy and, thankfully, normalcy that started to creep back into their lives.
Included in that recovery were plans for Noah to attend his first very NFL game.
Once the Bucs had beaten the Bears 38-3, Brady jogged over to Noah’s section in the bleachers and put a new Bucs hat on the boy’s head. The hat is part of the NFL’s Crucial Catch initiative with the American Cancer Society that focuses on routine screenings to catch the disease in its early stages.
Brady then shook Noah’s hand and exchanged a few words before heading to the locker room. Behind him, Noah put his face in his hands and began to weep.
“That was really sweet. Obviously, a tough kid,” said Brady, whose own 8-year-old daughter Vivian attended his post-game news conference 30 minutes later. “It puts a lot in perspective of what we’re doing on the field. In the end, it doesn’t mean much compared to what so many people go through.
“We all try to make a difference in different way, and I think so many guys commit time to their foundations and to doing good things for the world … I always think, ‘Do the best you can do, under any circumstance.’ It was nice to see.”
Later, Noah’s father James would post a video diary of the day from the time they arrived at the stadium to their encounter with Brady.
“The significance of Tom Brady putting that hat on his scarred little head. Noah knows,” James Reeb wrote. “I know that sweet face and those big grateful tears. Gosh, I’m so overwhelmed and so grateful. God heard Noah’s prayers and somehow made this happen.
“We didn’t pull any strings, we didn’t have access to anything other than a pair of tickets so he could watch his hero play for the first time ever.”
Staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report.
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