By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
Kevin Turner, Mike Mamula and Hollis Thomas took different routes to become part of the surprising 1995 Philadelphia Eagles. Turner, a fullback, signed as a restricted free agent from the New England Patriots. Mamula was the Eagles’ first-round draft pick out of Boston College; and Thomas was an undrafted free agent out of Northern Illinois.
A year earlier the Eagles had a historic collapse under former head coach Rich Kotite. The team lost its final seven games of the season to become the only team in NFL history to start the season 7-2 and not finish .500.
In 1995 with a new head coach in Ray Rhodes, and a re-made roster the team went 10-6, qualified for the playoffs as a wild-card team, and beat the Detroit Lions in a the NFC wild-card game.
“You share a bond with a guy when you come in with him to a team,’’ Mamula said. “Kevin and I had that bond.’’
Turner, after a long fight, passed away from ALS this past March. The Kevin Turner Foundation he began in 2010 held a benefit in his honor, “Climb with Kevin,’’ on May 5th, which raised over $80,000 for ALS Awareness. Both Mamula and Thomas were there to show their support for their teammate.
“Kevin did everything the right way when he played,’’ Thomas said. “He was a tough player, played hard all the time. But he was also very talented.’’
“Climb for Kevin’’ featured eight people who climbed the 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It’s just one of the many fundraisers the foundation has sponsored. There was a “Ride for Kevin’’ also in May and with another planned for July and the annual golf outing also in July.
“It’s just a terrible, terrible disease,’’ Thomas said. “People need to be made aware of it and the foundation is doing just that. From a football player’s standpoint, sure you need to know, but it’s more than just football players.
“What they’re doing, and what Kevin wanted to do, was make everyone aware.’’
Mamula hasn’t missed an event to honor and support his teammate. They kept in touch, mostly through text messages, as Turner battled the illness that still does not have a cure.
“It’s just so sad,’’ he said. “It just shows you again life is fragile. You have to live every day as if it’s your last.
“[The foundation] is a great cause. ALS is afflicting guys who are contemporaries of mine and that’s scary. You’re seeing guys for the wrong reason, but it’s for the right reason that we’re getting together for a great cause.’’
Garry Cobb, a former NFL player, never played on a team with Turner, but was on television and radio in Philadelphia when Turner played for the Eagles. He supports the KTF as well.
“Kevin wasn’t just a good football player; he was as good of a person as I’ve ever met in the NFL,’’ Cobb said. “With the foundation, Kevin wanted to leave something behind. He wanted to do right by his children. He felt so bad about not being there for them.
“The kind of person Kevin was, he had gotten to a rough point where he wasn’t really communicating very well, and yet he was still cracking jokes. That’s how I’ll remember Kevin.’’
May is ALS Awareness month. As part of its commitment to the health and wellness of all players, the NFL provides specialized resources to support the long-term well-being of its players.
The 88 Plan provides financial reimbursement for care costs of vested players diagnosed with dementia, ALS, or Parkinson's disease.
The Neurological Care Program provides retired players with facilitated access, comprehensive evaluation, and treatment for all possible neurological conditions at top-tier medical centers nationwide.
As part of the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL and NFLPA created a neuro-cognitive benefit plan for retired players. Eligible former players will receive facilitated access and comprehensive, coordinated evaluation at participating medical centers. Each facility will designate one of its neurologists or neurosurgeons as a point of contact to coordinate and oversee all aspects of an eligible former player’s evaluation.
For more information on NFL medical resources available to members of the NFL family, visit http://www.nflplayerengagement.com