He had spent many hours of his life on the grass at Beaver Stadium. On this day, Tim Shaw was going to need a little help to get out to the 50-yard line.
So the former Penn State linebacker had two Nittany Lions seniors lock arms with him. Brendan Mahon had his left and fellow offensive lineman Andrew Nelson grabbed his right.
Shaw, 33, suffers from ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. But it hasn’t stopped him from staying involved in football, as he did Saturday when he served as honorary captain for Penn State’s home finale against Nebraska.
“We knew he was going to go out and do the coin toss, and he told us he was probably going to need some help getting out there,” Lions coach James Franklin said. “Brendan Mahon and Andrew Nelson wanted to do that, and the guy has got a smile from ear to ear. The stadium erupts for him.
“He’s just a special guy, and we could all learn a lot from Tim Shaw and how he’s handled unbelievable challenges. And he’s done it with grace and he’s done it with dignity. He’s kind of shown the world how you handle difficult situations.”
Shaw’s condition has gradually worsened since announcing his diagnosis in 2014 following a six-season career in the NFL.
A motor neuron disease, ALS can cause muscle atrophy and slurred speech. But neither symptom has prevented Shaw from working as a motivational speaker, writing a book entitled “Blitz Your Life: Stories from an NFL and ALS Warrior.”
Prior to last weekend’s game, Shaw swung by Penn State’s Lasch Building headquarters to deliver a speech to Lions players with the cameras rolling.
“About three years ago, I was given a diagnosis. And with that diagnosis, I was given a gift,” Shaw said to them in the video. “I was given the gift of perspective.”
A successful linebacker in his own right who was a fifth-round draft pick, Shaw didn’t complain during a Penn State career that saw him overshadowed by teammates like Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor and Sean Lee.
Shaw was with the Lions from 2002-06, recording 120 tackles and 11.5 sacks while also playing a little stand-up defensive end as a senior.
Drafted by the Carolina Panthers, he also played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears and had a three-year stint with the Tennessee Titans, where he retired as a “Titan for life” after his diagnosis.
As he raises awareness for ALS, he has also made a handful of stops at his alma mater.
“Tim’s been very involved in our program,” Franklin said. “He’s come and spoken to our team a number of times. Tim is one of the more amazing individuals that I’ve ever been around.”
After the game, Lions players echoed those sentiments, saying they were moved by Shaw’s speech earlier in the week.
“The game of football is meant to be played 100 percent committed,” Shaw said to them. “That’s what I decided to do with my life. The game is made to played with heart, man. And that’s the way life is meant to be lived.”
Thanksgiving at the Franklins
With Penn State players stuck in town over the holiday to prepare for Saturday’s game at Maryland, many of them will head to the homes of their respective position coaches Thursday for Thanksgiving dinner.
But a handful of players, their parents and some young staffers will end up at Franklin’s home in Port Matilda, down the road from State College.
“I think I have four players and their families coming, which I think is awesome,” Franklin said. “I want them to understand what Thanksgivings are like at the Franklins. I don’t want them to come up dressed up and formal. It is sleep, it is eat, it is watch football, fall asleep on the couch, play ping-pong, board games, pool — eat, sleep, rotate the rest of the day.
“I’m hoping that they’ll come and slobber on my couch and eat turkey and just chill, because to me it’s just about family and about spending quality time with each other. Taking the time to be thankful for all the blessings that we do have. That’s the plan.”